Politics

Chinese dissident kicked out of NYU

Chinese dissident kicked out of NYU

Follow-up to a story from last summer: Chen Guangcheng, the blind pro-life lawyer who made a dramatic escape from his homeland after criticizing his government’s corrupt family planning policies, has been asked to leave New York University, where he has been studying law.  He was self-taught in Chinese law; the government’s stated reason for allowing him to leave the country was to study abroad.

The New York Post thinks Chen’s departure from NYU is a result of pressure from the Chinese government, which has leverage over the university because NYU is trying to open a branch in Shanghai:

Chen’s presence at the school didn’t sit well with the Chinese bureaucrats who signed off on the permits for NYU’s expansion there, the sources said.

“The big problem is that NYU is very compromised by the fact they are working very closely with the Chinese to establish a university,” according to one New York-based professor familiar with Chen’s situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“That’s their liability,” the source said. “Otherwise, they would be much less constrained on issues like freedom of speech.”

Chen’s reported plans to visit Taiwan later this summer probably didn’t win him any brownie points in Beijing.

University officials say this all has nothing to do with the Chinese government, which already signed off on the Shanghai campus.  (And we all know the Chinese government would never interfere with a project after they approve it!)  It has also been said that Chen’s presence at the school was never meant to be “long-term.”  He didn’t begin his studies until June 2012, and had to learn English first, before entering what the Washington Post described as a “custom-tailored legal curriculum” designed by star NYU law professor Jerome Cohen.  The custom-tailored curriculum only lasted one year?

(Incidentally, he began with a study of the American Constitution, which led him to this observation in an interview with the NYU blog: “It’s interesting how, in the Constitution, Congress holds much of the power. In reality, the president might hold more power than prescribed in the Constitution. This makes me think that, in order for the government to operate properly, executive power might need more checks and balances.”  Nice going, Chen!  Now you’re going to have two overweening power-hungry executives angry at you.)

The Post article also includes some grumbling from NYU social and cultural studies professor Andrew Ross that “apart from the initial press hoopla,” the famed Chinese dissident “really hasn’t had any kind of profile at NYU this year.”  If Chen is getting the boot because he hasn’t lived up to the terms of his fellowship, university authorities should say so, on the record.

“If there were outside pressure, why would we have taken him in the first place when his plight was on every front page in the world?” a university spokesman asked.  Perhaps because the Chinese government has increased that pressure recently?  Fox News notes that Chen has been complaining about their rough treatment of his remaining relatives in China, contrary to promises they made at the time of his escape:

His nephew, Chen Kegui, was sentenced to 39 months in jail after he clashed with local officials who stormed into his parents’ house in the wake of the activist’s escape. Chen family supporters say the prosecution and sentence were retribution for the embarrassment the case has caused Chinese officials.

Last month, Chen Guangfu, Chen Guangcheng’s oldest brother, complained that he and his family were subject to constant harassment by local thugs who beat him, distributed flyers with insulting language and tossed dead animals into the family yard.

Neither Chen nor his advocate Cohen could be reached for comment on the New York Post story, but a spokesman at Fordham Law School told the Post they are discussing the possibility of accepting Chen as a student.

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