by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A joint degree program bankrolled by the Chinese government is causing an uproar among Cornell University professors, prompting soul searching at the Ivy League institution about the extent to which American academics should cooperate with the oppressive regime.
At issue is a program introduced at a faculty meeting in early February, when Professor Alex Susskind, an associate dean at Cornell’s school of hotel administration, touted a joint degree program funded by the Chinese Ministry of Education that he said would generate up to $1 million in annual profits for the university, according to meeting minutes and audio obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Susskind’s introduction elicited blowback from his colleagues, who expressed deep concerns about whether Cornell could maintain its academic independence given the Chinese government’s increasing control over all aspects of civil society. The faculty senate postponed a vote to endorse the venture as a result.
“When I talk to my colleagues at Peking University, there’s a dean and then there’s a political officer,” Ken Birman, a professor of computer science, told Susskind. “I’m wondering how we maintain Cornell’s independence and freedom of bias and our standards?”
Susskind said he understands the concerns but doesn’t consider them “overwhelmingly significant.”
The pushback prompted the intervention of a top Cornell administrator, who participated in a subsequent faculty meeting on Feb. 24. There, university provost Michael Kotlikoff issued a warning to faculty members who had raised objections: Stop meddling. “The proper role of the faculty senate is really to set general principles,” Kotlikoff said, urging faculty members “not [to] hold individual programs hostage to individual concerns.”
The joint degree program with Peking University seeks to expand Cornell’s footprint in China by catering to mid-level Chinese executives, offering them an American education under the tutelage of Cornell professors. The faculty pushback was prompted, in part, by the fact that the motivation for the program seemed purely financial. …