PrawfsBlawg: Academic Freedom in NYU-Shanghai versus NYU-NYC
by Rick Hills
Last week, the GAO issued a report on academic freedom at campuses operated by American universities in China. The report has special interest for me, because I spend my Fall terms teaching undergraduate students at one such university (New York University-Shanghai), and I had been interviewed for the GAO report.
The GAO’s conclusions are consistent with my own experience teaching here at NYU-SH: NYU’s campus here in China fosters freedom of speech and thought just as effectively as the campus in Washington Square. My class on constitutional law provides a typical illustration. The course studies the U.S. Constitution with the goal of assessing whether and to what extent its text, precedents, and basic concepts (freedom of speech, separation of powers and judicial review, federalism) are relevant to China. Toward that end, the class is divided into two teams – the “Left Party” （左派）and the “Western Liberal Party” (西自由派) who are charged with trying to persuade or dissuade the chair of Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China (Zhongyang Zhengfawei, 中央政法委) to adopt an American constitutional practice. The two teams debated last week whether Article 105 of the Chinese Criminal Code prohibiting “subversion of state power” should be construed narrowly to exclude prosecutions of Chinese human rights lawyers. Thanks to NYU-Shanghai’s outstanding VPN, they had the same access to newspaper accounts of these arrests, detentions, and coerced confessions. The ensuing debate was no-holds-barred, with impassioned denunciations of censorship and prosecution vying with Leninist calls for protection of stability against “western outsiders.”