Last Thursday, we joined 200 graduate teachers and researchers as they marched from HGS to Woodbridge Hall and submitted a grievance — signed by a clear majority of Yale’s Chinese graduate students — to Dean Jon Butler and President Richard Levin. The grievance focuses on the case of Xuemei Han, a graduate student in ecology and environmental biology, but also alleges that a pattern of discrimination against Chinese scholars exists at Yale.
Xuemei Han grew up in Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, where she and her identical twin sister, who is also a Yale graduate student, lived with her grandparents. Xuemei’s interest in ecology comes from the time she and her sister spent working on their family’s farm, and she came to Yale hoping to get a world-class biology education with the intention of returning home to apply her knowledge of ecology and to help make sure her region of China develops along environmental lines. During her first two years at Yale she not only passed all her academic requirements and the SPEAK test (the administration’s standard exam to determine English proficiency), but also presented significant new research at the New England Invasive Plant Summit.
Now, she faces great uncertainty because no faculty member in ecology and evolutionary biology will agree to be her primary advisor, and the administration is refusing to continue her funding if she works with a professor outside her department. Other cases of this nature — many of which are included as supporting evidence in the grievance — have been solved on an informal, case-by-case basis. Despite trying to resolve this situation during countless hours of meetings with deans and members of the faculty, Xuemei has still not received a fair hearing or been granted a just solution to her case.
In recent years, President Levin has admirably succeeded in turning Yale into a global institution by building partnerships with the Chinese government and Chinese educational, industrial and scientific institutions. He has traveled to China almost annually during the last 13 years and has cultivated a close relationship with President Hu, an unprecedented move for a University president.
A global university, however, also has a responsibility to its teachers and researchers from around the globe who travel to work and study within Yale’s Ivy walls. Yale cannot claim to be a truly open, global institution while it allows cases like Xuemei’s to go unresolved. As Yale professor Michael Denning stated at Thursday’s rally, Yale administrators “see the issues facing international students as exceptional or marginal, as the problems of individuals. However, it is clear that the central meaning of the global university is not the conferences on globalization but the tremendous growth of migrant intellectual labor, students and researchers crossing borders to do the work of the global university.”
The grievance filed last Thursday asks for a fair remedy to Xuemei’s case, proposes the establishment of a third-party grievance procedure to deal with cases like these, and calls for an open hearing to end unfair treatment of Chinese scholars at Yale. These are not unreasonable requests given the greater funding insecurity and disproportionately punitive application of academic requirements that numerous Chinese academic workers have faced on this campus.
The pattern of discriminatory practices alleged in the grievance shows a need for a real mechanism to represent and defend the interests of international academic workers. This is one reason GESO and the ACSSY have worked together in recent years on issues such as visa reform, and it is why we are working together today to make sure that Xuemei’s case is resolved in a way that will ensure equality, dignity, and respect for everyone working at Yale. A global university needs to recognize the fact that its international scholars need independent, meaningful representation and an effective third-party grievance procedure.
Now that the grievance has been submitted, the Yale administration faces a critical choice. We hope they do not follow precedent by ignoring, denying or stalling on the grievance. Instead, we hope that they use this opportunity to take a significant stride towards their goal of becoming an inclusive, global institution. We hope they take this opportunity to do right by Xuemei, to implement a real grievance procedure and to begin the difficult task of ending discriminatory practices against Chinese teachers and researchers at Yale.
Cong Huang GRD ’09 is the president of the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale. Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 is the chair of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization.