[Marxism] Columbia U. Canceled an Event on Chinese Human-Rights Violations. Organizers See a University Bowing to Intimidation.

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 20 07:19:46 MST 2019

Chronicle of Higher Education
Columbia U. Canceled an Event on Chinese Human-Rights Violations. 
Organizers See a University Bowing to Intimidation.
By Megan Zahneis NOVEMBER 19, 2019  PREMIUM

The cancellation of a panel at Columbia U. takes place against a 
backdrop of escalating tensions between Hong Kong and mainland China.
A panel at Columbia University focusing on human-rights violations by 
the Chinese Communist Party was abruptly canceled last week amid 
scheduling conflicts and, panelists say, concern about counter-protests 
by Chinese students.

The panel, “Panopticism with Chinese Characteristics: Human Rights 
Violations by the Chinese Communist Party and How They Affect the 
World,” was to be hosted jointly by the Columbia and New York 
Universities’ chapters of Amnesty International and by the Lion Rock 
Café, a group of students from Hong Kong. Moderated by a survivor of the 
1989 Tiananmen Square violence, the panel was to discuss China’s 
reliance on “an extensive matrix of digital surveillance systems, 
optimized for maximum social control,” according to an event description.

The cancellation takes place against a backdrop of escalating tensions 
between Hong Kong and mainland China that have increased in recent 
months as the Chinese government has revealed plans to extradite 
dissidents from Hong Kong, which is under Chinese rule but maintains 
autonomy and more rights for its citizens than the mainland. Student 
protestors from each side of the conflict clashed ahead of an NYU Law 
event Monday night about human rights in Hong Kong, according to reports 
from NYU’s Washington Square News.

Teng Biao, a human-rights lawyer and scholar who was to serve on the 
Columbia panel, wrote in a now-viral tweet that the incident marked “an 
extreme insult to free speech in this country.”

[Thread] A Chinese student group, likely CSSA, threatened Columbia 
University to cancel a panel discussion on #humanrights in #hongkong 
#tibet #EastTurkestan #Uyghurs and #China. And they successfully blocked 
the discussion.  An extreme insult to free speech in this country.

6:12 PM - Nov 15, 2019
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1,827 people are talking about this

The panel was originally slated to be held at Columbia's Kraft Center 
for Jewish Student Life, but the request to host the event there wasn’t 
funneled through proper channels, according to the Columbia Spectator. 
The plan then became to hold it at Columbia’s Prentis Hall. A Columbia 
spokesperson told The Chronicle that the cancellation was due to event 
organizers’ failure to follow university room-reservation policies.

“The subsequent effort to move the panel to Columbia on a short timeline 
appears to have resulted in a failure to engage Columbia's standard 
procedures for holding events. Those procedures apply uniformly to all 
of our many student groups,” the spokesperson said. “Should Columbia’s 
chapter of Amnesty International want to reschedule the event, the 
proposed panel discussion will be welcomed at Columbia once the required 
procedures are met.”

In a statement, the executive board of Columbia’s Amnesty chapter said 
it had decided to postpone the event due to “logistical headwinds.” The 
day of the event, Columbia officials told the board that a Chinese 
student organization had told its adviser it would protest the panel. 
Because campus security was not scheduled to staff the panel, the 
Amnesty group decided to reschedule the event for next semester, with 
the same speakers.

“Now that we know how politically sensitive the event is perceived on 
Columbia’s Morningside Campus, we anticipate reorganizing the event and 
undertaking the necessary measures to ensure that Public Safety is 
present to guarantee the security of all participants,” the statement read.

The panelists on Friday released a statement condemning the cancellation 
and citing a half-dozen “similar incidents of blatant vandalism, hate 
speech, and physical assaults from pro- Beijing Chinese students” on 
campuses across America. They include incidents at the University of 
Maryland, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of California 
at San Diego.

“We’re extremely concerned that American universities, safe havens that 
welcome all from around the world, beacons of freedom, independence and 
truth, have become battle fields and fallen victim to the dictatorship 
that is the Chinese government,” the statement said.

Undue Influence

Teng, the panelist, said that based on conversations with students, he 
believes the event was canceled because of pressure from a Chinese 
student group, which he suspects is Columbia’s Chinese Students and 
Scholars Association.

CSSAs exist at about 150 U.S. institutions and serve as a cultural 
touchpoint for Chinese students studying abroad, allowing them to 
network with one another and host Chinese cultural events, according to 
reporting in Foreign Policy, which also found that Georgetown 
University’s CSSA had accepted substantial funding from the Chinese 

The student groups appear to be autonomous, Teng said, but they 
“actually they get money for funding from the Chinese consulate, and 
they are directed or even controlled by the Chinese consulate.”

CSSAs, Teng said, are tasked with preventing sensitive issues from being 
discussed and monitoring Chinese students and scholars in the U.S. Those 
who publicly dissent from pro-Chinese views, he said, are reported to 
the consulate.

In Canada, McMaster University stripped its CSSA of student-organization 
status after a CSSA member reported a talk by an Uyghur activist to the 
consulate. McMaster’s student union claimed the CSSA had endangered 
students by reporting the talk, and the organization lost an appeal of 
its status earlier this month. A lawyer for the CSSA told the South 
China Morning Post that the ruling was based on “conjecture, speculation 
and biased assumptions.”

Attempts to contact the CSSA at NYU went answered.

Dorjee Tseten, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet and a 
panelist, said that such incidents reflect undue influence of the 
Chinese government on student activism.

“It is very difficult to link all the dots, but at the same time we are 
seeing it's a pattern that is happening,” Tseten said.

Silencing Discourse

Panelist Rushan Abbas, a former pro-democracy student activist and 
executive director of the Campaign for Uyghurs, said the event last week 
went through several venue changes, but she didn’t find out it had been 
canceled until after she had arrived in New York City.

She faulted Columbia for canceling the event and described the 
university’s explanation that it was because of a failure to follow 
room-reservation protocol as a “lame excuse” that had the effect of 
hampering free expression. “This is a way of Chinese communist 
government influencing our system, our universities around the world,” 
she said.

“I was born and raised in China. I went to university there. This is 
something that we should only expect to experience in an authoritarian 
system and a regime like China,” Abbas said.

It is not the first time that Columbia has attracted criticism for its 
handling of events that run afoul of the sensitivities of foreign 
governments. This spring, Columbia drew national attention for 
postponing an event on freedom of expression in Turkey. A university 
spokesperson cited “irregularities in the planning” of that panel, which 
was rescheduled several weeks later.

Lion Rock Café, a group of students from Hong Kong that was listed as a 
co-sponsor of last week’s event, posted about the incident on a public 
Facebook event page.

The group wrote that it suspected a group of Chinese student protestors 
would “create uncontrollable clashes” at the event, and decided to 
cancel the event to ensure attendees’ safety. “This does not mean we are 
bowing down to the evil power” of the Chinese Communist Party, the group 
wrote. “We are not afraid of suppression, especially when our brothers 
and sisters in Hong Kong are continuously being assaulted, injured and 

Stuart Chen-Hayes, a professor at CUNY Lehman College, tweeted an offer 
to host the panel at his institution. “We back #freespeech and won't be 
intimidated as NYC's public university,” he wrote.

A Lion Rock Café representative did not return a call from The 
Chronicle. Columbia’s Amnesty International chapter also did not respond 
to a request for comment.

Robert Quinn, executive director of the Scholars at Risk Network, a 
nonprofit based at NYU, said he didn’t know enough about the specifics 
of Thursday’s event to comment on it, but noted that in general, “there 
have been efforts to frustrate discourse on U.S. campuses about issues 
which displease” the Chinese Communist Party.

“While U.S. universities have a responsibility to safeguard the security 
and well-being of individuals in campus spaces, and understandably take 
that responsibility seriously, they also have a responsibility to 
safeguard academic freedom and should take that responsibility equally 
seriously,” Quinn wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “If the event is 
canceled based only on the possibility (or even likelihood) of a 
counter-event or verbal protest outside the venue, then the university 
has abdicated its responsibility.”

Megan Zahneis is a reporting fellow for The Chronicle. Follow her on 
Twitter at @meganzahneis, or email her at megan.zahneis at chronicle.com.

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