Many students, faculty and administrators at Yale are understandably nervous and upset about any interaction between Yale and China in light of recent Sino-American hostilities over Taiwan, Hong Kong, human rights violations in Xinjiang and, closer to home, the recent failure of Yale’s academic venture in Singapore. But perhaps many in the Yale community are viewing the situation from less than an academically or even a historically objective position.
True, Freedom House’s liberty ratings place China at 9/100, Singapore at 48/100 and the USA at 83/100. So America can gloat that it is considerably less politically repressive domestically than are China and Singapore — but note that Switzerland rates 96/100, so we are not perfect angels. Note also that America was a major colonial power (Philippines, Hawaii, Alaska) and still is (Puerto Rico and numerous other overseas Federal Territories). America even stole all of its territory from the Indigenous peoples we found here. America also has a long and continued history of repressing both people and ideas within our borders.
Thus, following the logic of the opposition to President Salovey’s video appearance, Yale should have no contact with the U.S. Government that does not include an express and vehement denunciation of U.S. repressions and overseas violence, both historical and contemporary.
Next, Yale has a legitimate interest in keeping academic lines of communication open. True, perhaps the forum of Yale’s recent involvement with international academics was marginally tainted by the presence of the Chinese consul general, but such a gathering does not, as President Salovey’s letter points out, imply any approval by Yale of China’s activities in general, any more than accepting funding from the U.S. Government expresses or implies approval of everything that the U.S. Government does.
Finally, The Brookings Institution has published an excellent, even-handed analysis of why China is taking repressive action in the Xinjiang region. After reading the Brookings analysis one can fairly conclude that China’s actions are ill advised based on the facts as we see them, but not necessarily as the Chinese Government sees them. A similar situation comes to mind surrounding the facts of the internment of US citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. More recently, the proliferation of police brutality to maintain white supremacy, judicial rulings by Trump appointees that read a lot like some of the rulings that resulted in the Nuremberg Trials and the basically insane and fascist conduct and goals of the GOP majority in our House of Representatives. Glass houses?
It is not Yale’s mission to right all the wrongs in the world. Yale’s mission is to educate people. That mission includes keeping lines of communication open to those in the rest of the world with the same mission. While I disagree from time to time with some of the Yale administration’s priorities and methodologies, I have no opposition to Yale getting on with its basic mission, however imperfectly.
James Luce ’66
Alt Empordà, Catalonia
20 April 2023
The article mentioned above:
History and Mission of Brookings