By SARA RATHOD ’15
Academic Council is scheduled to vote on whether to continue Wellesley’s official partnership with Peking University (PKU) after a panel of Economics professors voted to dismiss Professor Xia Yeliang, an outspoken liberal economist, from his position at the university last month.
The Council resolved last week to delay the vote after some debate among faculty members. The impromptu meeting was scheduled by President Bottomly for the purpose of discussing the future of the PKU partnership.
Among the concerns raised by faculty was the question of whether Academic Council should have been consulted further as the partnership with PKU was being formed. Provost and Dean of the College Andrew Shennan admitted that the administration could have sought further input from faculty.
“In retrospect, I can see now that it would have been a better choice to slow down and inquire faculty consensus behind it,” Shennan said.
Moving forward, he suggested a collaboration between Wellesley and PKU faculty to recommend the terms of the institutions’ formal partnership.
Many faculty, including those in the East Asian and Language studies department, agreed that ending the partnership with PKU would ultimately come at a cost for students from both institutions who would no longer benefit from the same intimate exchange.
“If China is changing, China is changing because of cultural exchanges with other countries,” Assistant Professor of Chinese Mingwei Song said.
Song himself benefited from cultural exchange when he came to the United States in 2000 to study at Columbia University, during which he said he learned much about the world and democracy.
Professor of English Yu Jin Ko agreed that the College should continue to engage in dialogue with Peking University. He believes that PKU faculty have been left out of the conversation about the future of the partnership when there should have been a cross-institutional dialogue.
“The College has entered into a partnership, which means that it should be a two-way street,” he said. “I think one of the troubling aspects of the discussion concerning PKU has been its unilateral nature.”
In a public statement, PKU has said that it has received over 340 student complaints about Xia’s teaching since 2006. Weiye Kou ’11, a Wellesley alumna who has studied at PKU, wrote an open letter to Wellesley faculty criticizing Professor Xia’s qualifications.
“Having spent time at both schools, I am also puzzled over the case of Xia, not on the cessation of his contract, but on how he got the job in the first place,” she wrote.
However, Kou’s letter also included misinformation, such as the charge that Professor Xia had not published an economics paper in a peer-reviewed journal since 2002. In fact, the official criticism released by a PKU spokesman was that Professor Xia had only published one research paper in Chinese Social SCI (CSSCI) journals from August 2008 to January 2013.
According to Professor of Sociology Thomas Cushman, who orchestrated the plan to bring Professor Xia to Wellesley through the Freedom Project, both claims are inaccurate.
“The information provided by Weiye Kou is false and defamatory,” Cushman said. “I have before me two articles from peer reviewed journals that were published in 2010 and 2011.”
From 2008 onward, Xia’s CV lists four scholarly articles and one published book.
In the wake of conflicting reports over Xia’s qualifications, some Wellesley professors have not yet reached a conclusion as to whether they would support an invitation to Professor Xia to join Wellesley as a visiting fellow, although such an arrangement would not necessarily mean that Professor Xia would teach.
Cushman advocates allowing Xia to continue his academic work at Wellesley. He stated that the Faculty Advisory Committee of The Freedom Project has given full consideration to the information about Professor Xia highlighted in Kou’s letter. The Committee came to the conclusion that Professor Xia would make a significant contribution to the College as a teacher and scholar.
“I think it’s important for citizens to know that it’s not the same system of evaluation that we have here that they have there,” he said. “When you’re completely controlled by the Communist party and you’re a dissident you are going to be labeled as a bad teacher.”
The grant proposal that would cover the expenses of bringing Xia here has been forwarded to the President of the College by the Faculty Advisory Board of The Freedom Project and is currently awaiting her approval. No determination has been made about any formal teaching duties for Professor Xia while at Wellesley College.
As discussion over the future of the partnership continues, Cushman hopes that Wellesley faculty will resolve to establish formal rules of engagement with PKU regarding academic freedom for faculty from both institutions so that the official partnership between Wellesley and PKU can continue without violating Wellesley’s principles as a liberal arts institution.
“I fully support the PKU exchange and most of my colleagues do as long as we can protect and safeguard our academic freedom,” he said.
So far, it is not certain how faculty will vote in the upcoming Academic Council meeting.
“The discussion was charged but civil,” Ko said of the meeting last week. “I do not have a firm sense of how my colleagues will vote or when it will be resolved.”