Boiling The Frog: Duke and Yale in China

From the Wall Street Journal:

American universities are closely watching recent moves by China that they fear could be the beginning of a push to limit academic freedom at a time when more than a dozen have branches in the country.

Academics are studying recent charter amendments at three Chinese universities—including Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University—that place absolute adherence to Communist Party rule over academic independence.

Nothing’s happened so far. But it will.

Will American colleges really walk away entirely? Do they have any leverage?

…“We haven’t had any intrusions, no assertions of party prerogative so far, but we don’t exist in a bubble,” said Denis Fred Simon, executive vice chancellor at Duke Kunshan University, a partnership between Duke University and China’s Wuhan University established in 2013. “Basically it’s a game of vigilance. I would be less than honest if I said we don’t have some concerns.”

“We greatly value our international relationships, but will not compromise when it comes to the University’s foundational values,” a spokesman for the University of California, Berkeley said in an email. In 2014, Berkeley opened a joint research and educational partnership with Tsinghua University and the Shenzhen municipal government in China.

Yale University operates the Yale-Fudan Center for Research in Cultural Sociology with Fudan University. Yale didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Over the past few decades, 14 American universities have opened branch campuses in China. Scores of others have created smaller partnerships. In most cases those gambles have generated revenue, reputation and research opportunities.

U.S. universities have hashed out contracts with Chinese authorities that sometimes run hundreds of pages and are aimed at protecting their independence inside classroom walls.

But they acknowledge those protections end at their proverbial campus gates.

Jason Lane, co-director of the Cross-Border Education Research Team at the State University of New York at Albany, called the charter amendments “potentially huge” and said if they spread they will create a real dilemma for U.S. schools.

“This could be like boiling a frog,” said Dr. Lane. “The heat is slowly turned up and you don’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late.”