Translation: Prof. Xiao Han on Academic Freedom

Just over a month ago, a law professor named Xiao Han at China University of Political Science and Law, the top law school in the country, had his classes cancelled inexplicably. Last week, he issued an open letter (translated below) asking the dean of the law department to give him a proper explanation for the cancellation. So far, the school maintains that Professor Xiao lacks the proper certification to teach, but Xiao has countered that accusation by saying that he was never required to have any such certification when he was hired six years ago.

Prof. Xiao Han

Xiao is an extremely popular professor on campus but has often had run-ins with his superiors due to his outspoken nature. He was known for publicly criticizing the government, including specific laws regarding everything from human rights to forced relocation. It still remains unclear what in particular caused Xiao’s classes to be cancelled and we’ll keep you updated when anything new comes out. Either way this turns out, it could have far reaching implications for academic freedom across the country.

Translation: Seeking the advice of Dean Xue Gangling on the issue of professors’ freedom

Dear Dean Xue!

First I would like to make it clear that this is an open letter.

This letter has been made public on my Sina blog and NetEase blog. I am making this letter open to the public in order to guarantee that we have a fair discourse. Furthermore, this issue does not simply involve me personally but also speaks to the principles of academic and educational freedom at all institutions of higher learning and therefore is worthy of being a subject of public debate.

My problem is simple. At the beginning of this semester, my classes were inexplicably cancelled.

Students at the China University of Political Science and Law

At the end of last semester, I had already discovered that my courses had been removed from the class list despite the fact that I had been planning to teach “Case Studies in Constitutional Law,” “Case Studies in Administrative Law” and I had requested to teach “Chinese Constitutional and Political History” (This course was cancelled without following proper procedures in the previous semester). I was also supposed to teach “Guided Readings of Classic Texts” for graduate students.

I learned from several sources that my classes had indeed been cancelled. I also was told by the Registrar that this was not a simple mistake.

What surprised me most was that you did not follow any of the proper procedures for canceling classes. You did not formally provide me with a reason for the cancellation, nor did you present any of the documents require for canceling these classes. It seems that you don’t have to follow any procedures to cancel a professor’s classes.

Dean Xue, I am not interested in understanding your motive for canceling my classes. After I was certain that my classes had been cancelled, I patiently waited for you to follow the proper protocol and provide me with an appropriate reason. But it has been three weeks since the semester started and you still have not given any explanation for this matter.

I believe that this matter is gravely serious as it involves the most basic academic principle present throughout the modern civilized world: professors’ freedom.

From January 2004 to now, I’ve been at the China University of Political Science and Law for a total of six years. When looking back on my work over the past six years, I find I have committed no transgressions against international teaching and academic principles…….[Editor: Here Xiao details complaints Dean Xue had against one of his classes for not addressing pre-Qin Dynasty history.]

My students’ reviews of my class always have given me higher scores than the average for the school. Although I do not believe that students’ ratings should be the main standard for evaluating a professor, but I would not be so haughty as to say that I am an outstanding professor. What I would like to emphasize is that I believe in the academic principles of “freedom of thought, and independence of spirit.” I try my best to let my students form their own opinions about what I teach and engage them in interactive discussion. At the end of every semester, I have each student write a 3,000-word term paper on any topic discussed in class in order to cultivate their creativity.

China University of Political Science and Law
During these past six years, I have not published very many academic papers and my bonus is normally only around 2,000 yuan a year and I am perfectly content with that. I have my own attitude toward academics. Considering my age [Ed: 40] and academic standing, I am unable to and shouldn’t try to be prolific. If I were to underperform, I wouldn’t need anyone to point it out to me. I’d be the first person to criticize myself. I’m especially opposed to people who waste paper and readers’ time just for the sake of promotions and bonuses. I once wrote on a performance evaluation: “Universities aren’t hen houses. You feed a hen and it should lay eggs. That’s not what academics is about.” I won’t change my opinion on this.

You’ve also expressed dissatisfaction with my lack of participation in campus meetings. I understand why you’re upset, but I will continue avoiding these events because they are just bureaucratic meetings. Rarely do we have academic discussions and I think it is not worth the risk of going to a bureaucratic meeting in hopes of talking of something of value. I won’t attend these events as if I’m buying lottery tickets. I’ll start going the day we’ve gotten rid of the administrative nonsense and they become more like normal academic conferences.

Looking back on my six years at this university, I don’t believe that I have ever done anything that went against the principles of academia or education, nor have I abused academic freedoms. I truly cannot understand what reason you could possibly have for canceling my classes. Dean Xue, could you please follow the proper academic procedures and inform me why my courses have been canceled? Why are you infringing on my rights as a professor to teach and those of my students to take my courses?

If I may be so bold as to offer my opinion on this matter, I’d say that China University of Political Science and Law doesn’t need someone who strangles academic freedom and tramples on professors’ rights as a department head.

Xiao Han, Professor of Law

March 21, 2010

5 thoughts on “Translation: Prof. Xiao Han on Academic Freedom”

  1. Meh…that stuff is so subjective anyway, it’s not worth changing. Everyone has their own opinion about what schools are best, and there’s evidence to support lots of different claims or ranking systems.


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