Cornell, Renmin University and Academic Freedom

By Jerome A. Cohen

Here’s a good article containing Eli Friedman’s thoughtful explanation of what led to the break with his labor colleagues at Renmin University in Beijing. As he predicts, we will see more of these problems as the impact of Xi Jinping’s repression becomes more severe. 

Yet, as Eli recognizes, these are not new problems, only more apparent and numerous in the “new era”. Previous incidents of interrupted Sino-American academic cooperation have often gone unreported. Some were caused by changes in the Party leadership at a given institution or changes in local government policy. The U.S. side would often seek to find some compromise that would save the cooperation. In each case it would be necessary to balance the pros and cons of continuing with the original Chinese partner, and sometimes it was possible to find a better opportunity at another Chinese institution if the tipping point came at the initial place. 

In view of today’s increasing repression, these problems have become more challenging, and Eli has done a public service by ventilating Cornell’s experience and reaction.