Our objective in the design of a new joint venture campus in China in partnership with SCUT is to create an innovative new educational model for the 21st Century that meets the highest educational standards and preserves academic freedom. With this objective in mind we have been researching and meeting with leading peer institutions which have established campuses in the Middle East and/or Asia to understand how they have addressed academic freedom issues in the governance and policies for their campuses, so that we can incorporate best practices into the plans for our campus.
It is important to recognize, however, that academic freedom and freedom of speech are not synonymous. As Prof. Jason Lane of SUNY Albany, the top academic expert on foreign branch campuses, observed when we interviewed him: “we need to be careful not to confuse freedom of speech with academic freedom. They are not synonymous - at least as defined by the courts and the AAUP. Few of these single party countries have the general level of acceptance of free speech as the US, so while they might promise academic freedom, they certainly do not intend to allow freedom of speech more generally - so it becomes a difficult tightrope to walk for both faculty and institution.”
For our proposed campus, we will include language in the proposal which enshrines academic freedom in the core teaching and research activities of faculty, so that they have the ability to determine what issues to study and publish on, and to teach their subjects free from external interference (conforming to the same policies in place at Rutgers in the US). Their activities and those of students outside the classroom and these professional capacities will be subject to Chinese law.
Our belief is that the two most important countries for the future of the Earth and humanity in the coming decades will be China and the US. And that the best opportunity for building a safe and sustainable future for all of us and future generations is to create deep partnerships between universities from the two countries - like the university campus we're proposing with SCUT - that can educate some of the future leaders of America and China together and conduct research on the key common issues we face.