NYU Shanghai Students and Staff Respond to New York Post Article on School’s Self-censorship

As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to capture international attention, questions surrounding the Chinese government’s transparency and censorship become more and more critical. New York University Shanghai, the first Sino-US research university in China, also faces scrutiny on whether it can ensure independence and academic freedom given its connection to the Chinese government. A New York Post article on self-censorship and political influence at NYU Shanghai has evoked discord among students and staff, who share a different understanding of the culture on campus. How did people at NYU Shanghai respond to the New York Post’s article? What do people at NYU Shanghai think about the academic freedom within our campus? Mia Barkenaes, class of 2023, presented us with different views from the students and staff.

A New York Post article on self-censorship and political influence at NYU Shanghai has evoked discord among students and staff, who share a different understanding of the culture on campus.

The ‘insight’ offered into the newly-established NYU Shanghai is a criticism of its neutral stance on the protests in Hong Kong, which appeared in a crucial article in the New York Post. The article accuses the campus of being “self-censoring.”

New York University’s Shanghai campus is a joint-venture between East China Normal University and New York University. The student body is composed of around 1300 students, half of which are Chinese Nationals, with the other half being internationals.

Despite the Chinese government’s strict control of information, NYU Shanghai students are guaranteed the same academic freedom enjoyed at the New York campus. Both campuses operate on the same private internet network.

In light of the protests in Hong Kong, the New York Post condemns NYU Shanghai for its lack of public political statements on Twitter and Facebook.

In the article published in October, it attributes the school’s neutrality to “the Chinese Communist Party loom[ing] over” the school.

The New York Post fails to consider that it is uncommon for academic institutions, including those in the United States, to take political stances, let alone publicly declare them.

The Post backs up its statement of Chinese government influence by citing Chinese government and politics courses in the NYU curriculum.

The courses mentioned, however, are a national requirement for all Chinese university students; international students at NYU Shanghai are exempt from this requirement.

In an explanation of NYU Shanghai’s neutral environment, the Post quotes an unnamed NYU Shanghai staff member, saying that students and staff “learn how to self-censor.”

NYU Shanghai Associate Dean of Students Lauren Sinclair, who has worked at both the New York and Shanghai campuses, shares her thoughts:

“Here at NYU Shanghai, we speak with the intentionality not to be offensive.”

Sinclair explains that students and faculty are mindful of what they say not because they feel obligated to self-censor, but because they want to be as considerate of the international community as possible.

“NYU isn’t trying to change places,” she said.

As an educational institution, NYU Shanghai focuses on international educational partnerships. Sinclair points out that the goal of NYU Shanghai is to “learn as much as possible,” adding that Chinese cultural immersion is an important goal at the school.

When asked whether the university would protect students who choose to speak up on controversial issues, Sinclair responded that NYU Shanghai is “considerate and protective over students.”

NYU Shanghai also offers a variety of events at which students can share opinions on controversial topics.

Class of 2022 student Kevin Nader cites his experience with NYU Shanghai’s Model United Nations club:

“At this year’s NYU Shanghai Model United Nations Conference, I was able to listen to a variety of viewpoints on issues such as Huawei’s spreading influence internationally, as well as global challenges to China’s expansion of the Belt and Road Initiative.”

Nader also attended multiple talks hosted by the school regarding the Hong Kong protests.

Chinese national students also disagreed with the Post’s claim that NYU Shanghai students self-censor.

Ziyang Xiao, a first-year student from Xiamen, said “not at all” when asked whether he feels censored by the school, or if he chooses to censor himself.

Xiao also attended the “what’s going on with Hong Kong?” discussion hosted by NYU Shanghai. He recalls that there were “no restrictions for us to discuss.”

Other students expressed different experiences when it comes to self-censorship.

Bernina Ti, a study-away student from NYU’s New York campus, says she feels “equally censored” at both the New York and Shanghai campuses.

A native of the Philippines, Ti also said:

“I feel like if you’re not a citizen of that place there’s always a risk.”

As the first American university to be granted independent registration by China’s Ministry of Education, NYU Shanghai plays a unique role in promoting international academic freedom. The question The Post brings up is whether the school should be responsible for encouraging political action.

In the New York Post article, NYU New York professor Rebecca Karl communicates her view that NYU Shanghai should prioritize protecting its students and faculty in acts of political statement.

NYU spokesman John Beckman clarifies that NYU Shanghai is not able to “immunize” its students from harm or jeopardy, a possible result of public political activity or protest in China.

As NYU Shanghai is an international collaboration, there is an agreement to respect the laws of the host country. NYU Shanghai students are foremost informed of their limits and capabilities while residing in Shanghai.

The discussion over academic freedom at NYU Shanghai is an ongoing one. As students face unique circumstances this Spring semester, it remains essential to study China’s response to its current political challenges and their probable effects on government transparency and NYU Shanghai. 

This article was written by Mia Barkenaes. Please send an email to managing@oncenturyavenue.com to get in touch.
Photo Credit: https://eliegamburg.com/nyu-shanghai

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