It’s not often that students take to the streets to protest over the dismissal of their teacher. But, then again, there are not many teachers like Bai Haiyan.
Haiyan, a university professor from the People’s Republic of China, was a beloved teacher at Hamden High School, a public high school a few miles north of Yale. The school fired her last month, and now, unless her visa is extended, she will be deported tomorrow.
The issue came to our attention shortly after 13 students and three parents protested in front of Hamden’s Board of Education before its meeting last week, when Maxwell Hansen, one of Haiyan’s pupils, approached the Asian American Students Alliance asking us to do something on his teacher’s behalf.
Haiyan came to Hamden this September to teach high school Chinese through the College Board Chinese Guest Teacher Program, a program designed to help U.S. schools develop Chinese language and culture study curriculums and to promote international exchange between the United States and China. She was promised a salary of $26,967 per year, a housing benefit of $8,500 and a transportation stipend of $1,000 — together $3,500 less than what the lowest level teacher makes in the Hamden district.
But a low promised salary was the least of her problems. Although Haiyan taught since August, neither she nor her roommate (another teacher in the program) was paid until October 9, and when she finally received her paycheck, it amounted to about $100 per week. Charges to her salary included a $2,000 visa fee, utility charges, as well as the supposed “housing benefit” and “transportation stipend” she was to receive.
Understandably upset over this breach of contract, Haiyan sought legal representation and filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities to regain her lost wages. Though the College Board intervened to get the $2,000 visa fee waived, Haiyan was fired shortly thereafter, supposedly in connection with an altercation she had with her roommate. All charges have since been dropped. Since she is no longer a teacher with Hamden High or the College Board Guest Program, her work visa has been terminated and she has no choice but to return to China.
The Board of Education and College Board have refused to comment on the issue and neither has yet to explain to either Haiyan or her students the reason for her swift dismissal. In fact, the day after Haiyan’s arrest late Sunday night, Hamden High School not only interviewed, but also hired a new teacher to replace Haiyan, suggesting that Haiyan’s dismissal may have been premeditated and not linked to the altercation but rather in retaliation to her seeking legal representation. In addition, the Board of Education refused to put the issue on its agenda last week, relenting to discussion — though no questions — only after many people showed up to protest. It doesn’t look like the board is going to change its mind; rather members of both the Board of Education and College Board seem willing to have Haiyan deported and let the situation simply disappear.
Haiyan’s best shot at staying here, at least until the matter is resolved, is through a private bill sponsored by our representative Rosa De Lauro. But we need your help to get it passed. Otherwise, Haiyan will be gone Friday. A valued teacher will be lost and injustice will continue. Many of us are at Yale because we had a teacher inspire us and make us passionate about learning. Haiyan was one of these teachers, and we don’t want to see her go.
Christine Chen and David Zhang are the co-moderators of the Asian American Students Alliance and, respectively, sophomores in Pierson College and Ezra Stiles College.