The Case of Professor Zhang Ming
Zhang Ming (张鸣) had been the Dean of Political Sciences at the Renmin University of China. On March 12, 2007, he posted the following essay on his blog (March 12, 2007: Perhaps I might be forced to leave the Renmin University of China):
Perhaps, I will be forced to leave the Renmin University. On my blog, I introduce myself as teaching at the Department of Political Sciences at Renmin University. This introduction may well change in the near future because I might be forced to leave the Renmin University.
This is what happened. Ever since May last year, I and the faculty leader (more precisely, this is Mister Li Jingzhi, who is the Dean of the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China) has been clashing with me and he regards this as being very serious. In last year's faculty review panel, I expressed my opinion about the professorial qualifications of Mister Xiao Yanzhong of the Department of Political Sciences. Xiao is a renowned scholar since the 1980's but he has not yet been promoted to professorship and that is really embarrassing. When I was speaking, the Dean interrupted me twice but I stopped him. Therefore, my speech and my refusal to let him interrupt me angered him. He believed that I did not have even minimal deference for him and therefore he wanted to dismiss me from my job, blacken my name and expel me from the Renmin University. Although I am just a small dean elected by everybody, it was not up to his say-so to dismiss me. He does not have the power to do so within the system. Ever since that time, the school dean has held a number of meetings with people who had anything to do with me and, in a word, asked them to severe their relationships with me and make me quit in embarrassment without any allies. During this period, various rumors were circulated within the faculty and the higher authorities in the university about how I had no scholarly knowledge and no writings, and I only knew how to cause trouble. Although I have a reputation in modern history and political sciences and I am one of the most productive people in the School of International Studies, I do not know the university leaders and therefore our Dean's words have a certain market inside the school.
My image as troublemaker was also solidified by another matter that was totally unrelated to me. Before the students graduated last summer, they had already gotten their job assignment passes but the doctoral and masters research students had not even gotten the thesis defense subsidy fees that was owed to them. For a doctoral student, the sum of money was 1,800 RMB, which is quite significant for a poor student. The graduate students contacted the faculty leaders several times without results; furthermore, the other party behaved poorly towards them. Finally, the students brought the matter to the attention of the media. A certain newspaper reporter knew me and attempted to confirm with me. Obviously, I cannot lie but I told the reporter that before publication, he should check with our deputy dean -- if he decides to distribute the money, then the report does not need to be published. The reporter went to talk but was cursed out. Of course, the matter was then published in the newspaper and the report said that I had confirmed the case. Our respected faculty dean used this as ironclad proof that I was helping outsiders to create trouble for the school. Although I have feelings for the Renmin University because this is my alma mater after all, it is not the end of the world for me to leave. Even if I cannot be a professor, I will be able to live. But I still have fondness for my students and I don't want to leave them. I have taught at the Renmin University for ten years. I have given them my best, I have done right by my job and I have done right as a professor.
Perhaps in the near future, I will be leaving the Renmin University, my colleagues, my friends who have kept our friendship in spite of the high pressure and my students (whom I care a lot about). Just to make sure that you do not get surprised, I am saying so here.
(Beijing News) March 17, 2007.
On the afternoon of March 16, Renmin University School of International Studies professor Zhang Ming told this reporter over the telephone that he has been relieved of his duties as the head of the department of political sciences. He said that the executive vice-dean of the School informed him of this decision by telephone: "The vice-dean said that the decision was made at a business meeting called by the dean. Although the decision was controversial, it was passed by a show of hands."
On March 12, Zhang Ming had claimed on his blog that he might be forced to leave the Renmin University after having angered the School of International Studies dean Li Jingzhi twice. Zhang Ming published the reasons for relieving him of his duties: "The decision to relieve my duties had no given reasons and the process was not reasonable," said Zhang Ming. He was elected through the voting by department members and then appointed as director by the university. It was inappropriate to recall a department head through a dean's business meeting.
Since March 15, all the posts from Zhang Ming's blog have been deleted from the Renmin University BBS. That evening, Zhang Ming was attending a forum and he was told beforehand not to discuss the contents on his blog. Yesterday, this reporter called Renmin University School of International Studies dean Li Jingzhi and the vice dean in charge of the matter. But the telephone calls never reached them.
This item was then reported in English by Reuters:
A prestigious Chinese university has fired one of its deans days after he complained about being sidelined for bold remarks on academic freedom and berated the country's higher education woes on the Internet.
Zhang Ming, dean of political sciences at Renmin University of China, posted articles detailing a row with his superior and attacking the "bureaucratization of Chinese colleges" on his well-read blog last week. Zhang was formally stripped of his post on Friday, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported on Monday. "They told me that I should be punished for ... breaking the 'hidden rules'," the 50-year-old was quoted as saying. Zhang remained a professor at the university and was likely to be able to continue teaching, the report said.
Zhang said in a March 12 blog post that he had irritated his superior last year by telling the media that the university had withheld some dissertation subsidies from graduate students. The superior was also angry at Zhang for speaking up for a colleague he believed was wronged by a reviewing panel whose members were selected for their official ranks instead of academic achievement, Zhang added. The university confirmed his dismissal as dean on its Web site, but denied the allegations Zhang made on his blog.
The Communist Party has kept a close watch on the Chinese intelligentsia since coming to power in 1949, by setting up party committees in all academic and educational institutions. Controls have eased since market reforms began in the 1980s, but unorthodox studies or teachings are still frowned upon.
"Universities have become an officialdom ... The over-intervention and manipulation of academia by power definitely fetters its growth," Zhang was quoted as saying. "How is China's academia doing now? Does anybody overseas read papers written by Chinese scholars? Plagiarism and theft are rampant ... Obedient kids are being taught to be minions."
Renmin University's School of International Studies, which administers Zhang's department, dismissed his blog posts as "lies" which had "brought great pressure to the school," "victimized its faculty" and "damaged its reputation." "Any organization has this or that problem with varying degrees. Professor Zhang made a precedent in China by whipping up the internal problem in the media," read two rare open letters on the school's web site.
After reading the media reports, Zhang Ming's blog posts and the Li Jingzhi's statements, the Rose Garden blogger (闾丘露薇 Luqiuluwei) had these reflections:
看完一系列的报道，觉得至少有几点媒体可以做得更好一些。媒体说打电话找不到当事人证实，为了截稿，当然可以理解，但是其实可以更花一些功夫，比如上门找，想办法堵人，这个时候，媒体当然很容易约到想要说话的一方，至于另一方，媒体应该花更多的功夫。另外17号和 19号李景治的公开信，其实回应了媒体的询问，也回应了张鸣的指责，基于平衡报道的守则，跟进这单新闻的记者们，是否应该继续跟进？如果看报纸，最新的3 月19号的报道，根本没有提到17号的公开信内容。而且不少报纸，到了18号还在转载新京报17号的报道，完全忘记了，新闻是在不断的发展和更新中的。不知道，今年早上出炉的报纸，会不会有点新的内容。还有媒体在访问张鸣的时候，至少应该告诉读者一点，萧延中已经在去年被评为教授了，当然评选的过程，还有这个职称是否来的过晚，可以在报道中进行探讨。
After reading through the series of reports, I feel that there are several points at which the media can do better. The media said that they were unable to locate the principals for confirmation. This is understandable when there is a publishing deadline. But they could have spent some more time and effort, like going there in person or intercepting someone outside. At this moment, the media obviously find it easy to reach the side that wants to talk, but the media should spend more time for the other party. Actually, Li Jingzhi's open letters on March 17 and 19 have answered the media's inquiries as well as Zhang Ming's accusations. Based upon the principle of balanced treatment, the newspaper reporters covering this story should have followed up. Yet many newspapers were still carrying Beijing News' March 17 report and totally forgot that the story was still developing and being updated. I don't know if the newspapers this morning will have new information. Also, when the media interviewed Zhang Ming, they should at least tell their readers that Xiao Yanzhong had already bee promoted to professor last year. The report can also explore examine the review process and the timeliness of the decision.
Everyone will have his own opinion about the conflict between Zhang Ming and Li Jingzhi. Every university faces the problem of deciding who can become a professor or not. The key is that the decision should not be made on the say-so of one person, or be a function of one's rank ...
I feel that there was no reason for the media to portray Zhang Ming as the conscience who exposed the dark secrets in academia. Instead, they should take this opportunity when people care about administering academia to explore how to change the conditions. During the period of the two Congresses, the People's Congress delegate Hong Kezhu criticized the four big universities by name and caused this problem to gather attention. But what happens next?
I saw a comment left by a netizen. She said, "I hate most of all seeing media people only criticize but refuse to follow thought." That is the critical point. The media cannot just seize on one hot topic, hype it up along with everyone else and then promptly drop it. Only when the media persists on chasing after the topic will the relevant departments change a little bit. In this Renmin University affair, the media have to follow up because they are responsible to Zhang Ming, to the accused Li Jingzhi and to the students and faculty of Renmin University. And then, should the media just cover this debate? Or should it go outside of the principals and discuss how to change the administration of academia? ....
For example, here is the sum total of the statements by the two principals about the two conflicts as identified by Zhang Ming:
Conflict #1: The Promotion of Xiao Yanzhong
(Zhang Ming, March 12 blog post)
In last year's faculty review panel, I expressed my opinion about the professorial qualifications of Mister Xiao Yanzhong of the Department of Political Sciences. Xiao is a renowned scholar since the 1980's but he has not yet been promoted to professorship and that is really embarrassing. When I was speaking, the Dean interrupted me twice but I stopped him. Therefore, my speech and my refusal to let him interrupt me angered him.
(Li Jingzhi, March 19, the third open letter to faculty and student)
During the job review work of 2006, professor Zhang Ming was one member of the job review panel. According to practice, the meeting agenda begin with the dean presenting the spirit of job review at the school and then the discussion begins. But professor Zhang Ming did not wait for the dean to start. He was the first to jump up, pounded on the desk and interrupted the dean by hollering at the panel members: "There is no justice under heaven if you do not approve Xiao Yanzhong as professor!" From there on, professor Zhang Ming refused to let anyone express dissident opinions about teacher Xiao Yanzhong and he interrupted other people at will. Some of the panel members said nothing in consideration of the overall situation, or else they were angered but too afraid to speak out. So the normal review process was interrupted. Professor Zhang Ming's domineering ways and his lack of respect for the other panel members had reached the level of being intolerable. He seemed to be telling the media that he is a victim. In truth, who are the real victims? Who is domineering? If every one of the panel members acted like him, normal review can no longer proceed.
(Zhang Ming, March 20 blog post)
The dean, who is the dean of the School of International Studies at the Renmin University, a responsible professor, a doctoral student advisor, a recipient of special subsidies from the State Council and the owner of so many titles of scholarly association presidents, vice-presidents, directors and evaluation committee members that he cannot even remember, used the official website of the School of International Studies at the Renmin University, is lying to the public. In his third open letter, he said that I was hollering at the meeting of the review panel that he chaired, causing the panel member professors to be angered without saying anything. If such is the case, then why did the panel members follow my opinion and voted Mister Xiao Yanzhong as the top choice in the secret ballot? This is such a bad piece of open lying that it is an insult to the intelligence of the public. It has damaged the reputation of the School of International Relations and it has hurt the face of the Renmin University. For the sake of saving a little face for the Renmin University and the School of International Studies (and besides I don't want to demean myself), I will ignore any more critiques from the dean as of this day on.
Conflict #2: The thesis subsidies for the graduate students
(Zhang Ming, March 12 blog post)
Before the students graduated last summer, they had already gotten their job assignment passes but the doctoral and masters research students had not even gotten the thesis defense subsidy fees that was owed to them. For a doctoral student, the sum of money was 1,800 RMB, which is quite significant for a poor student. The graduate students contacted the faculty leaders several times without results; furthermore, the other party behaved poorly towards them. Finally, the students brought the matter to the attention of the media. A certain newspaper reporter knew me and attempted to confirm with me. Obviously, I cannot lie but I told the reporter that before publication, he should check with our deputy dean -- if he decides to distribute the money, then the report does not need to be published. The reporter went to talk but was cursed out. Of course, the matter was then published in the newspaper and the report said that I had confirmed the case. Our respected faculty dean used this as ironclad proof that I was helping outsiders to create trouble for the school.
(Li Jingzhi, March 20 fourth open letter to faculty and students)
For example, at the end of the last school term, there were operational problems that caused the receipts from the graduating students for printing their theses came in late and the School was late in handling out the subsidies. Professor Zhang told a certain newspaper that the School was "withholding" the printing fees for graduate student fees. In truth, we took the steps to release the money and we apologized to the affected students. Can that be said to be "withholding"?
(Zhang Ming, March 20 blog post)
One problem is the thesis subsidies for the masters and doctoral students last year. He said that they were only late as opposed to owing money! It was so late that the students had received their job assignment papers and ready to depart from school. When they went to ask for their money, they got nothing except for a scolding. Isn't that a bit too late, Dean? This affair was investigated in detail by Youth Weekend (of the Beijing Youth Daily). The graduate students that year testified using their real names. Who is lying here?
[Okay, so let us find such a student ...]
(Academic Criticism, Ren Guoyen, a graduate students at the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China; June 30, 2006)
如果说派遣费仅仅是几百块钱的事情，那么国关学院拖欠学生的另一笔费用就实在有点说不过去了。学校规定，每个博士生应得到论文印刷、答辩费用 1800元。按照惯例，博士生在实际论文印刷和请老师出席答辩会时，自己先预垫付费用，然后学院再予以补发。博士生在进行答辩时要邀请至少5名老师参加答辩会，应付每名老师答辩费用200元。此外，博士生还必须请5名老师（其中2人可以与答辩委员重叠）对自己的博士学位论文进行评阅，每名评阅老师还要付与 200元的费用。于是，博士生在答辩会上的花费就至少有1600元。其次还要印刷数十本的学位论文，发给参加自己答辩会和评阅的老师。这样算下来，总共的费用只会比1800元多。很多经济上有困难的博士生，在论文答辩期间，都是借钱完成答辩，只等着最后学校的这笔费用发下来，弥补亏空。但没想到，派遣证、毕业证都领了，就是不见有关费用的影子。
Once again, this is another July, the time for graduation.
As the students pack to leave the school campus, something happened at the School of International Studies of the Renmin University of China that made all the graduating students unhappy.
When the many universities are carrying out the spirit of the Ministry of Education's document that "the severance fees for university graduates must be put aside for them and not used for other purposes," the graduating students for the undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees have not gotten a cent. On June 30, the graduate ceremony was completed and some students were ready to proceed immediately to their job posts. They could not wait for further delay and so they sought out Dean Li of the School of International Studies to check the situation. The students were shocked when the dean answered carelessly: "You ought to ask whoever is in charge!" So who were they supposed to talk to about the fees? When the students found the administrative person responsible for the work, they naturally received a vague answer. The answer is obvious, and any person with open eyes can sense it.
Although the severance fee was just a few hundred yuan, there is another sum that the School of International Studies is unreasonably owing the students. The school stipulates that each doctoral student will receive 1,800 RMB for printing the thesis and compensating the professors. By practice, the doctoral students have to pre-pay the fees when they print their theses and invite the professors to attend the thesis defense, and then the university will reimburse them later. A doctoral student must invite at least five professors to attend the thesis defense at 200 RMB apiece. In addition, the doctoral student needs at least five professors to review his thesis (of which two can overlap with this defense committee) at 200 RMB apiece. Therefore, the doctoral student incurs at least 1,600 RMB at least. Next, the doctoral students has to get several dozens of his/her thesis printed in order to give to the professors. The actual expenses will exceed 1,800 RMB. Many economically stressed doctoral student need to borrow money in order to finish their defense and they are waiting for the money from the school to repay their debts. Now that they have their job assignments and university diplomas, they have not seen anything of their subsidies.
In addition, the school should give 300 RMB to masters students for printing their theses, and this has not been distributed up to graduation. There are more than 100 graduating masters students from the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China this year, and none of them has received the printing fees. The School has asked the students to submit the receipts for 300 RMB because the School can only get the money from the university. But many masters students did not have receipts, so they had to pay to obtain the receipts. But since then, the School has not said anything about those subsidies. After the graduation ceremony, the students went to the School to check the situation. The explanation from the School was: There is no money now; they will have to wait until September. The graduating students can leave a bank account of number with their class presidents and the money will be wired to the accounts in September altogether. This explanation was infuriating.
How come the School of International Studies does not have the money? The thesis printing fee is issued by the university altogether. All the other Schools have delivered the money to the students. Why can't the School of International Studies do so? The money came from the university, not out of the pockets of the School.
... Faced with these facts, we can only shake our heads. We do not sense that we have any rights as students. Against the university and the School, students are always the weak ones. But we will not be silence. As graduating students, we must say this: "We are angry about what the School of International Studies did. But we are even more disappointed. This is the season in which we should leave our alma mater with a great deal of reluctance. But faced with the irresponsible response and mockery from the dean of the School of International Studies, we feel shame more -- the shame of being a students of the School of International Studies."