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Engel Remarks on Academic Freedom for U.S. Universities in China

Engel Remarks on Academic Freedom for U.S. Universities in China

- As Delivered –

WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign, today delivered the following statement at the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Subcommittee hearing on academic freedom and Chinese influence at U.S. universities:

“Thank you very much Mr. Chairman, and thank you for calling this hearing.  Thank you for your leadership.  We have discussed this together for many, many years.  Thank you for your concern about academic freedom, especially when it comes to American institutions operating in the People’s Republic of China.

“Let me welcome our witnesses.  Thank you for sharing your time and expertise. We really, really appreciate it.  I want to give a shout out to Vice Chancellor Lehman.  NYU is near and dear to my heart; very proud to have that as a wonderful institution of New York City.  And while you’re not in New York City, you’re certainly an extension of that wonderful, wonderful campus.  And so welcome, and I also am told that you’re a native of Bronxville, New York, which is in my district. So, that’s two good things.  And I know you’ve come a long way to be with us today—all the way from Shanghai.  So grateful to see you.

“I support these things.  I think academic exchanges are a very critical tool for building relationships between Americans and people around the world.  I was a teacher myself, before I ever got a law degree, before I ever went into politics, I was a classroom teacher.  I’ve seen firsthand how new ideas and new perspectives can transform a student’s understanding of the world, and of themselves.  And when students from around the world sit in our classrooms, or when American academics teach and research abroad, I really believe it helps to spread knowledge and understanding.  And these person-to-person ties are the foundation of strong engagements between countries and governments.  And that’s why, I think these exchanges are our priority, and should remain so in our foreign policy. So, thank all of you for what you do.

“The United States and China have a troubled relationship in many ways, but have a long history of educational exchange.  And as Mr. Daly testified, the U.S. has had far more influence on China as a result of these educational exchanges than China has had on the United States.

“So we should put aside the question of whether these exchanges should take place.  The value, as far as I’m concerned is clear.  But we should be asking how they take place.  We need to make sure these educational agreements continue to benefit students and teachers, and also to advance American interests.

“We’ve heard that NYU has worked hard to maintain full academic freedom on their campus in Shanghai.  So far, the Chinese authorities, I’m told, haven’t interfered with course material or classroom discussions.  So to me, it seems that the NYU-Shanghai campus is resulting in morefreedom and a greater exchange of ideas, not less.  To be sure, NYU needs to stay vigilant in protecting these freedoms, and I expect that will be the case.                                                         

“Another issue is whether financial arrangements between university partners could prejudice the academic freedom of U.S. institutions.

“Fort Hays State has established two campuses in China that issue U.S. bachelor’s degrees to Chinese students—one through a partnership with SIAS International University and one with Shenyang Normal University.  Dr. Martin, I guess will testify in your written testimony that the faculty have voluntarily chosen to avoid the topic of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.  The issue is considered too sensitive for discussion in China.  I think we need to take a hard look at this sort of self-censorship and how it relates to the academic freedom of American institutions.  And I look forward to a rich discussion.

“So, I’m going to end by again thanking the Chairman for having this very important hearing.  And thanking our witnesses for giving the unique perspectives.  That’s how we in Congress learn; we talk to ourselves too much. We like to learn by talking to people who are experts in what they do.  So thank you all, and appreciate you coming here today. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”