American teachers at the Wenzhou-Kean campus will be transferred to the control of the Chinese government, and union leaders say this puts them at risk.
“China really does not have a very good record on human rights and on workers’ rights,” said Eric Richard, New Jersey AFL-CIO director of legislation. “The ITUC, International Trade Union Conference, issued their most recent report and China literally received the worst grade possible.”
China’s track record on censorship also has the union concerned.
“These types of communist regimes have an increasingly powerful grip on their education systems. They’re constantly increasing the amount of censorship,” Richard said.
“You see it with the attacks on the Uyghur minorities, labor rights, student rights, academic integrity at universities in China, generally, and even persecution of Christians in the Wenzhou-Kean province,” said James Castiglione, president of the Kean Federation of Teachers.
Kean isn’t the first school to hand their faculty over to China. Duke University and New York University did the same on their Chinese campuses. But what’s different is Kean’s status as public university that receives more than $30 million a year in state funds.
“You have a public institution that is funded by public dollars that has a campus in China and has decided to, in some dark money way, to outsource not only the academics to the Communist Chinese government, but has decided to take away everything that is American about what happens on that campus. This is an outrage,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Kean University put out a strong rebuttal, saying in a statement: “We celebrate the American values of free expression, inclusivity and equal opportunity every day at Kean — both at our campuses here in the United States and in Wenzhou, China. Any suggestion otherwise is both ignorant and offensive; it appeals to a kind of xenophobia that we must all wholeheartedly reject. Ms. Weingarten has never met President Farahi; she has never tried to speak with him … clearly, it’s all about the union dues.”
New Jersey’s Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis is looking into the matter and said in a statement: “The Secretary has called upon Kean University to provide extensive disclosure of its dealings with Wenzhou-Kean University. … The Secretary has also consulted with relevant state agencies … to ensure that New Jersey’s public assets are utilized in a lawful and beneficial manner.”
But opponents say Kean University has a history of prioritizing the Chinese campus over New Jersey.
“Of Kean’s peer institutions, no other school has a China campus. But all of them have comparable tuition rates and all of them manage to employ more full-time faculty and more student support staff than Kean does in New Jersey,” said Council of New Jersey State College Locals President Tim Haresign. “Why does Kean have higher dropout rates than the peer institutions, lower graduation rates and more students graduating with debt than their peers?”
The Governor’s Office is still looking into the matter, but for now there are more questions than answers.