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University gags professor from talking about research on links between universities and Chinese military

Colleague thinks ‘review’ is intended to ‘shut [her] up with the minimum of fuss’

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center convinced an academic journal to rescind a paper by its own employee by claiming it was full of “inaccuracies, misstatements, and selective misreading of source materials.” It also fired him.

Norman Wang’s sin? Arguing that affirmative action in medical schools was hurting its supposed beneficiaries. UPMC’s retaliation against Wang prompted a federal investigation by the Department of Education, which is threatening to ding its federal funding.

No such consequences are facing the University of Canterbury in New Zealand for retaliation against a professor for her research – except global condemnation from Anne-Marie Brady’s international colleagues.

Brady’s lawyer told Times Higher Education that not only has she been under university review since August, but that Canterbury placed a gag order on her:

“The university’s failure to direct the complainants to normal academic remedies — publish their criticisms if they had confidence in them — is generating significant disquiet and internal protest from staff at her university, and elsewhere in New Zealand,” he said, adding that “the university would be a laughingstock if the chilling effect was not so obvious.”

One of Brady’s colleagues also told Times Higher Education the university had “gagged” her for raising “valid questions about Chinese defense spending,” leaving her “unable to defend herself.” A university spokesperson called this “incorrect.”

In language echoing UPMC’s rationale for punishing Wang, Canterbury claims Brady’s work is full of “manifest errors of fact and misleading inferences.” Its evidence is four complaints from academic staff at Canterbury and other universities who claim their reputations are “in question” because of Brady’s research.

MORE: U. Canterbury professor says we’re biased against black robots

Brady’s controversial research looked at alleged links between the Chinese military and New Zealand universities. It was published in July by the U.S.-based Wilson Center, a think tank chartered by Congress, where Brady is a global fellow, and also submitted to New Zealand’s Parliament.

Holding a Pen in One Hand, Gripping a Gun in the Other” argues that New Zealand may be breaching its own laws and international commitments by “increasingly been exporting innovative and sensitive technology to China.”

The paper says “most” of the country’s universities “have partnerships with Chinese universities linked to the” People’s Liberation Army, specifically naming the PLA Institute of Military Culture, National University of Defence Technology, North-western Polytechnical University, Shenyang Aerospace University and Xidian University:

New Zealand academics supervise doctoral students working at PLA-linked universities and students who have come from such institutions to study in New Zealand, and they host graduate students and staff currently working at PLA-affiliated institutions on short term fellowships. Some New Zealand academics have joint appointments or advisory roles at PLA-linked universities. Several New Zealand universities and companies have strategic partnerships with Chinese companies such as Iflytek, Huawei, and Kuangchi Science who work closely with the Chinese military and state security sector. Several PLA-linked universities have set up alumni associations in New Zealand which are used to draw in former staff and students to contribute to the PLA’s modernization as well as participate in CCP united front work/political interference activities.

New Zealand is heavily dependent economically on Chinese foreign students and tourists, and China is New Zealand’s sixth-largest foreign scientific research partner, according to the paper.

Brady also published an op-ed in the Washington Post in September on “the Chinese Communist Party’s growing political interference activities in states all around the world.”

MORE: Department of Ed threatens Pitt’s funding for Wang retaliation

Last month nearly 200 “international colleagues” of Brady wrote an open letter to Ian Wright, Canterbury’s deputy vice-chancellor for research, saying they were “shocked” by his allegations against Brady:

Her ground-breaking research on the United Front work of the Chinese Communist Party has had a profound impact internationally based as it is on meticulous research and her analytical insights over 20 years of scholarship in this area. …

We, who know this area, can see no manifest errors or misleading inferences based on the evidenced material provided in the report. The paper does not make “inferences.” People who study it may draw some, but that does not mean the paper made them, misleading or otherwise. ….

We are disappointed to see no prompt follow-up, explanation or clarification of the University’s position concerning the allegations. … The silence has been interpreted as collaboration in slander against a very distinguished scholar whose work has been consistently based on sound social scientific methodology.

They demanded a “prompt and full apology” from both Wright and the university as a whole, saying Brady has experienced “a harassment campaign and threatening menace because of the serious implications of her important research.”

Victoria University of Wellington’s Catherine Churchman, an Asian studies lecturer, told Times Higher Education the grounds for the investigation don’t make sense:

If there really were defamation issues, then the university could have taken up a court case against her, but this would have caused them severe reputational damage The proper way to deal with it would have been through a point-by-point academic rebuttal, but this would mean examining the paper and the larger issue in great detail and drawing more attention to the issue. The point of the “review” seems to have been to shut Professor Brady up with the minimum of fuss and outside scrutiny.

Read the report, Brady’s paper and open letter.

MOREFirst Amendment scholars troubled by Pitt’s demotion of Wang

MOREResearchers ask for their paper’s retraction after conservative cites it

IMAGES: M_Sur/Shutterstock, Wilson Center

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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