The governing bodies of faculty and undergraduate students at Cornell University have voted against a proposed partnership with China’s Peking University (PKU), citing the state-run institution’s poor record of academic freedom and human rights.
In a 16-39 vote with 20 abstentions, the Cornell Faculty Senate on Wednesday rejected a non-biding resolution endorsing a proposed dual-degree program between Cornell and PKU, one of the 76 top-tier universities directly administered by the Chinese Ministry of Education.
The proposed two-year program, according to the website of Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration (pdf), would allow graduates to obtain a master of management in hospitality degree from Cornell, and a master of business administration degree from Peking.
Once a hotbed of the nationwide pro-democracy protests in 1989, the PKU is now more than willing to discipline faculty and students whose ideologies are not aligned closely enough with the interests of the Chinese communist regime. In 2019, a campus Marxist society was forced to shut down, with some of its members arrested, after they tried to help factory workers unionize to improve harsh working conditions. The PKU amended its charter following the incident, effectively handing ultimate control over the university’s academic and administrative affairs to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“[If we have] partnerships with organizations and universities under the sway of authoritarian regimes, we risk degrading and compromising the University’s mission, function [and] reputation,” Cornell English professor Joanie Mackowski said at the faculty senate meeting, reported student newspaper The Cornell Daily Sun.
The faculty senate vote came a few days after the Cornell Student Assembly approved a resolution calling on the administrators to “uphold ethical guidelines” while collaborating with international institutions.
The resolution, which passed in an 18-0 vote with four abstentions, specifically asked Cornell to reconsider the proposed dual-degree program with Peking, highlighting the CCP’s suppression of academic freedom and violations of human rights.
“Continuing to partner with PKU and other institutions in China normalizes and accepts the genocide that is currently ongoing,” Laila Abd Elmagid, the senior who proposed the resolution, told the Cornell Daily Sun.
In January 2021, at the very end of President Donald Trump’s first term, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that the CCP is committing “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” against the Uyghur population, making the United States the first nation to use those terms to describe the human rights abuses taking place in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang. The declaration has been affirmed by Pompeo’s successor, Antony Blinken, as well as the governments of Canada and the Netherlands.
“In China, government authorities committed genocide against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and crimes against humanity including imprisonment, torture, enforced sterilization, and persecution against Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups,” Blinken said Tuesday at the launch of his department’s annual report documenting human rights situations around the world.
Neither Cornell nor Peking University responded to a request for comment.