The temptation for American colleges and universities to forge close links with Asian countries is a powerful one, and not just for the immediate cash flow. In an ideal world such linkages should benefit all parties. But when the partner country is politically repressive, American faculty members understandably raise tough questions. That is exactly what happened at Wellesley when a distinguished faculty member at its Chinese partner, Peking University, ran afoul opf the authorities. Jeff Jacoby tells the story of Xia Yeliang in “Wellesley Faculty Defend a Threatened Chinese Scholar”
Here’s one way to avoid such problems in the future. When a partnership is under discussion, the American institution can insist that it be allowed to provide a core course in the emergence of political thought in the West. It could begin with Solon, Herodotus and Thucydides, go on to Plato and Aristotle, and continue to Hobbes, Locke and the Federalist Papers. Good scholarly material, no polemics, but the message is clear. The course is a litmus test. If a country is not willing to allow its students access to such a course, then a partnership will inevitably run into trouble one way or another. Better to face it at the beginning, no matter how attractive the research and financial prospects might be.