I was shocked, but not surprised, to read Professor Charles Bu’s personal attack on me in the last issue of The Wellesley News. His diatribe contains at least three basic falsehoods about the history of events at Wellesley College and my role in them.
The first concerns his statement that I accused him of being a “Communist spy.” This assertion is patently false, and Professor Bu knows this because the newspapers that made the assertion retracted it publicly before he published his article. The Chronicle of Higher Education, which published an article on my human rights work on the issue of the Chinese government’s influence on U.S. institutions of higher education, printed the following statement after I wrote to them to object in the strongest terms possible to their statement that I called Bu a “spy”: “This article originally reported incorrectly that Thomas Cushman had accused Charles Bu of being a spy for the Communist Party of China. Mr. Cushman in fact said Mr. Bu was promoting the agenda of the Communist Party of China. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.”
Professor Bu claims in his article that in spite of the retraction, “The original reporting was actually a correct version of Mr. Cushman’s attacks on me.” This is a deliberate falsehood, since I never made the charge that he was a spy.
The issues concerning the Wellesley-PKU exchange and the situation of Professor Xia Yeliang are complex. Professor Bu and I were at odds, not about whether the exchange was a good idea (which I think it is), but about the treatment of my colleague, Professor David Yeliang Xia, the dissident economist who was terminated from his appointment at PKU for his outspoken views and criticisms of the Communist Party.
As the Director of The Freedom Project at Wellesley College, which explores issues related to freedom, human rights and dissent in the world today, I secured a large grant to bring Professor Xia to Wellesley for a visiting scholar position. Subsequent to this, Professor Bu, presumably to defend the exchange with PKU, broadened his activities to include specific attacks on Professor Xia’s character and reputation as a scholar and teacher. He spoke out actively and vociferously against Professor Xia in print and in the Academic Council repeating the exact same charges regarding Xia’s termination as were put forth by the party authorities in China. He even added “charges” related to Xia’s scholarly and research record that were not included in the CCP’s program of character assassination of Professor Xia. No evidence was ever presented publicly at Wellesley College to support statements about Xia’s teaching or scholarly record.
The second falsehood concerns Bu’s statement that “Instead of debating these issues, Mr. Cushman and so-called ‘freedom fighters’ resorted to a McCarthy style witch hunt. They couldn’t find anything, so they went after my hometown connection and wrote a bogus story about me.” This is outrageous: I never wrote any story about Professor Bu, and certainly did not work with anyone else to do so. Professor Bu seems to be referring to an article written by the Chinese human rights activist, Yaxue Cao, entitled “Why is a Wellesley Math Professor at Wellesley so Hard Hitting Against an Economics Professor Fired by Peking University in China.” I do not know Ms. Cao and did not have anything to do with the writing of that article. To suggest, without evidence, that I or anyone involved with The Freedom Project, participated in the writing of this article and, therefore, participated in a witch hunt of Professor Bu is false and defamatory in the extreme.
The third falsehood in Bu’s article is perhaps the most egregious of all. Professor Bu states that: “It is most appalling that Mr. Cushman launched an open assault on Wellesley’s entire ethnic Chinese group.” It is a completely unfounded and outrageous assertion. Ironically, I read the statement in The Wellesley News during a Freedom Project presentation by Professor Xia, in Chinese, which was widely attended and appreciated by many of Wellesley’s Chinese students and faculty. Bu took a statement I made at a policy presentation in Washington, D.C. completely out of context and used it to paint me as somehow an enemy of the Chinese community at Wellesley College. I sincerely doubt that the several prominent Chinese faculty members at Wellesley who participated actively in supporting Professor Xia and his visit to Wellesley would agree with Bu’s characterization of me in this regard.
Professor Bu presents tendentious historical accounts about his activities at Wellesley College that leave out important facts of the case. The most important part of the story is that Professor Bu was part of a concerted effort to defame and smear Professor Xia Yeliang. This had its intended effect: As the Director of the Freedom Project, I urged Professor Xia to take a position elsewhere because it was my belief that Wellesley College would be an unpleasant environment for him.
This was one of the most disillusioning experiences in 25 years of human rights activism and teaching at Wellesley College, but it is precisely those kinds of things that strengthen one’s resolve to carry on and remain true to basic principles.
Deffenbaugh de Hoyos Carlson Professor in the Social Sciences
Professor of Sociology
Director, The Freedom Project at Wellesley College
Founder and Editor-at-Large, The Journal of Human Rights