Despite Opposition, Cornell Approves Partnership With CCP-Controlled Peking University

June 1, 2021 Updated: June 2, 2021

Cornell University is moving forward with a proposed dual-degree program between its prestigious hotel school and China’s Peking University (PKU), despite calls to reconsider partnering with a state-run institution that has a poor record of academic freedom and human rights.

The proposed two-year graduate program, designed for executive professionals residing in China, would allow participants to obtain a master’s degree in hospitality management from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, and a master’s degree in business administration from PKU’s Guanghua School of Management.

The proposal was been presented to and approved by Cornell’s graduate committees on May 28, and currently awaits final review by the New York State Education Department, the Cornell Chronicle reported.

“Cornell has a long history of working with academic partners around the world,” said Cornell Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff. “These collaborations are vital to our mission of teaching, discovery, and engagement, and we encourage responsible collaborations even in countries with which we might have fundamental disagreements.”

The decision comes roughly two months after the governing bodies of Cornell’s faculty and undergraduate students voted against the idea, arguing that the Ivy League institution shouldn’t risk damaging its brand to work with a university under the direct control of the Chinese communist regime.

In a 16–39 vote with 20 abstentions, the Cornell Faculty Senate on March 31 rejected a non-binding resolution endorsing the proposed dual-degree program between Cornell and PKU, one of 76 top-tier universities directly administered by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

Once a hotbed of the nationwide pro-democracy protests in 1989, PKU is now more than willing to discipline faculty and students whose ideologies aren’t aligned closely enough with the interests of the Chinese communist regime. In 2019, a campus Marxist society was suspended, with some of its members detained, after they tried to help factory workers unionize to improve harsh working conditions. 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, the student newspaper The Cornell Daily Sun reported.

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 proposal, 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 Daily Sun.

In January, Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that the CCP was 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 was affirmed by Pompeo’s successor, Antony Blinken, and has since been recognized by the governments of Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Lithuania.