Wellesley controversy raises questions over international relationships

October 6, 2014

A controversy at Wellesley College in Massachusetts over its international ties has led a faculty member to initiate a larger examination of US colleges’ relationships abroad. Sociology professor Thomas Cushman and other faculty members learned that Xia Yeliang, a professor at Peking University, with which Wellesley was pursuing a partnership, was facing termination for expressing his political views. In response, roughly 40% of faculty members signed a petition opposing the institutions’ agreement. Wellesley continues to work with Peking, but now gives faculty a stronger voice when considering international agreements. Cushman, meanwhile, is advocating more broadly for a cautious approach when it comes to cross-border collaboration. However, Cushman’s stance on the Peking University was not without its critics: some faculty members felt there was more good to be done on behalf of academic freedom by working with PekingU, while others criticized Cushman’s tactics, which included accusing another professor of being a communist. Cushman says that partnering too closely with authoritarian countries could make some topics off-limits at US universities, as well. The Chronicle of Higher Education (Subscription Required)