Politically Directed Higher Education

From the NY Times today:

… They are out there, hiding in library stacks, whispering in lecture halls, armed with dangerous textbooks and subversive pop quizzes…

…foreign enemies plotting a stealthy academic invasion of Chinese universities.

So says China’s education minister, Yuan Guiren, who has been issuing dire alarms about the threat of foreign ideas on the nation’s college campuses, calling for a ban on textbooks that promote Western values and forbidding criticism of the Communist Party’s leadership in the classroom.

The article continues:

To gird China’s impressionable young minds, Mr. Yuan has been championing new guidelines, issued last month, that call on the country’s higher education institutions to prioritize the teaching of Marxism, ideological loyalty to the party and the views of President Xi Jinping.

He recently described Chinese schools as the “ideological front line” in a battle against concepts like rule of law, civil society and human rights. Any “wrong talk” in social science and philosophy forums, he said, must be silenced.

Given the plethora of empirical evidence indicating the importance to economic growth of human capital accumulation, and a well-developed educational system in nurturing such accumulation, attempts to stifle the higher education system in China appear ill-advised — at least insofar as furthering economic advancement is concerned.

36 thoughts on “Politically Directed Higher Education

  1. Manfred

    Oh come on, Menzie – is this really news?
    China is a dictatorial country, where the Communist Party still holds the strings of everything. Yes, they allowed some market reforms, they allowed foreign investment, but all as long as it did not interfere with the Communist Party’s iron fisted hold on power. They “allow” some freedom, just like some king in the Enlightenment Period “allowed” a bit more freedom – it was not because the king believed in freedom as a system in itself, no, it was as if the king allowed it by his good graces.
    At the end, in China it is not only “Politically Directed Higher Education”, but it is also “Politically Directed Investment”, “Politically Directed Resource Allocation”, “Politically Directed Infrastructure”, “Politically Directed Everything”.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Manfred: Thanks for your exegesis on Chinese politics. Ever been to China? Ever taken a course in Chinese politics? Is the Communist Party a monolith? Inquiring minds would like to know.

      Given your criterion for “newsworthy”, we should have never written anything about economic reforms in China because in they end, hmm, who knows, they might be reversed (and some have, so those should not have been ever discussed, because people like you who are blessed with perfect foresight knew they were going to be reversed).

      1. PeakTrader

        Well, it seems, Chinese have at least diverse views on economics.

        Here’s what someone in China, who says he studied economics, said to me a few years ago:

        “I can not say you are an idiot, but completely brainwashed by the western media, let’s teach you some ABC to anti-brainwash; news from NY times: “There are few Chinese factory workers earning over $100 a month” is it true? can you doubt such an authoritative media? of course you belive it is ture because you are brainwashed, however, you are human being, you can use the $100 to think more. can $100 explain China’s saving rate (45%), 450 million Mobile phone/400 million fixed line phone user, 99% Color TV owner, 9 million vehicles sold in a Yr ….., if you can explain perfectly, please go to metal hospital directly.

        …China’s nice economic polices such as 8 employees theory; cat theory, stone theory, SEZ theory, tier development theory, three reprenstive theory…; China’s development have proved those polices are wonderful policies, perhaps the best one in human history. China’s policy makers are master in making economic policies for a transferring economy, in this field, U.S can not give any advice but only a pupil.

        let’s sample “8 theory” as it clarifies that it is socilism not capitalism if you are employeeing 8 staffs or below, the policies was implemented in Year 1988, economy was then booming contributed to the theory, Cat Theory – It doesn’t matter if it is a suboptimal economic policies or optimal economic policies, as long as it escalate economic growth, it is a good policies. No-argument thought – Do not debate this anymore.”

        Deng Xiaoping – the world’s greatest economist


    2. baffling

      Manfred, look at the economic and growth statistics of china over the past 30 years. compare that to the western world. you may not like china and its system, but can you honestly argue that the western system has been superior to the results produced in china over several decades? ignoring ones ideological views, and simply looking at the past data results from china, should make an honest individual at a minimum reconsider any pre-existing bias against the chinese system.

  2. BC

    As in the case of “dis-ease care” spending for the sickest 5-10% (a.k.a. “health care” at 18-19% of GDP, $10,000 per capita, and $26,000 per household), post-secondary “education” in the US is now a net cost to the private sector, as an increasing disproportionate share of flows to the sector (funded by student loan debt at nearly $4,000 per capita and $10,000 per household) is going to the costs of salaries and benefits for surging administration personnel and pension payouts and medical benefits for retirees.

    “Dis-ease care” and “education” were two of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy since the 1980s, with 75-85% of employees being female. These sectors are most likely to experience the largest effects of smart/intelligent systems disruptions, i.e., biometrics, bioinformatics, telepresence, robotics, etc., so much so that the loss of paid employment and purchasing power without net replacement in the next 5-10 to 20 years will disproportionately affect women employees, repeating what primarily men directly experienced with the dramatic decline in employment in the goods-producing sectors.

    Few if any economists are publicly anticipating this once-in-history phenomenon and its implications for trend economic growth, social and political dynamics, and fiscal effects.

  3. randomworker

    They wouldn’t have those problems with subversive ideas if they just concentrated on workforce readiness.

  4. rjs

    this is why the future of the world rides on India…the kids there are reading and talking about literature that was censored in the US in my generation…

  5. BC

    The Chinese “education” system has evolved coincident with the largest fixed investment and credit bubbles as a share of GDP in world history. Credit and money supply at times has grown at compounding doubling times of less than 5 years. Money velocity has been in collapse since 2008.

    If one examines the multiplier for FDI to investment, production, and exports, and adjusts for the funky inventory accounting, China’s economy is growing no faster than 3% real and 2% real per capita, as the growth of FDI from the US and Japan is decelerating, if not contracting after 20-30 years of growth.

    Peak demographic drag effects (as began in Japan in 1998 and the US in 2007-08) will intensify hereafter into the mid-2020s, taking real GDP per capita to 1% to 0% over the period.

    The seemingly countless numbers of paper multi-millionaires and billionaires in China will see their wealth collapse as a result of debt/asset deflation in the years ahead; that is, for those who have not already absconded with the cash through the back doors of Hong Kong and Singapore.

  6. Ed Hanson

    Academic freedom is important so its all very nice to comment on the Chinese education system, but Chinese will be Chinese and communist will be communist, but there is nothing that can be done about it from the US. Which why it rated a topic was surprising. And when there are freedom of education issues right in Wisconsin, which I would expect to be of greater interest and possibly could be influenced.


    Are you opposed to tenure? If not, what have you done about the case out of Marquette U. with Professor John McAdams? Do you think his infraction on a blog warrants the punishment from the President of the university? Since you are a Professor who blogs, it should be of particular interest to you, beyond the implication of what tenure is suppose to be.

    I will relate a tenure case all probably remember from the University of Colorado, the Ward Churchill case. It also began with less than choice words outside the classroom and duties within the university. But it did not fall on the judgement of one person, the University President, nor Provost, nor even the head of the particular department. No, the case drag on for months and months, properly so. A special committee of peers was formed to look at the totality of Churchill’s academic work. It turned out severe shortcomings in Churchill’s academia work became apparent. He was eventual firing was not for exercising his free speech rights outside the university, but for serious plagiarism and I my memory says made up research. But the decision was not made by a single person, but with input from the committee, inputs from the university hierarchy, as then I believe the final decision was made by the Board of Regents, after all that input. Should not a private university have comparable proceedings? If tenure important, should not there be extensive due process, as was the case in Colorado?

    Where did you stand on the Churchill matter? Where do you stand on the McAdams’ matter?


    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Ed Hanson: Did you seriously write “Chinese will be Chinese”? Using that criterion, I should never write anything about Chinese economic policy, because not much we Americans can do about it.

  7. Ed Hanson

    Seriously Menzie,

    Is that all you have to say?

    Is the McAdams’ case too politically sensitive for you to comment? Or is tenure just a meaningless and outmoded concept, so who cares? Or is that you find the seemingly left – right lineup of characters more important than either education freedom or due process?


  8. Patrick R. Sullivan

    Yeah, those nasty Chinese. We’d never have anything like approved ideas and campus speech codes here.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Patrick R. Sullivan: Thus far, neither the party in charge in Wisconsin nor the university have told me what textbook to use and/or how to teach my macro courses.

      I am still waiting to hear you admit you were in error regarding depth of the downturn in Canada vs. US during the Great Depression. As you recall, you stated unequivocally:

      Canada … had a less severe depression than the USA.

      And this statement is wrong.

  9. Ed Hanson


    I have ask you at least ten questions about a specific case of educational and academic freedom, and all you respond is with one question. I have to admit, I thought if Menzie refuses to answer any of my questions why should I bother answering his. But what the heck, I’ll answer yours, in fact, I’ll give you two answers.

    You asked, “Did you seriously write “Chinese will be Chinese”?”

    One answer follows the logic of Barack Obama, and with much of the same understanding of history. Many centuries ago, Christians made a Crusade to the Middle East. They committed some terrible deeds. It is relevant today, after all, Christians will be Christians.

    Many centuries ago, the Chinese had the most advanced trading fleet in the world. But there came a time when, “The conservative Confucian faction now had the upper hand. In its worldview, it was improper to go abroad while one’s parents were still alive. “Barbarian” nations were seen as offering little of value to add to the prosperity already present in the Middle Kingdom.” This quote is from PBS Nova, “Ancient Chinese Explorers” By Evan Hadingham, bold emphasis mine. The Chinese need no outside influence. It is relevant today, after all, Chinese will be Chinese.

    But here is a bonus second answer. I am certain that you, Menzie, have many colleagues and friends in the academic world of China. And you are rightfully and commendably concerned about the changing atmosphere within the eduction institution caused by a petty bureaucratic tyrant, the China’s education minister, Yuan Guiren. But you are at a disadvantages of being from the West, from a different country, and thousands of miles away. But you add to that disadvantage by showing unconcern about a matter of academic and educational freedom within the West, within your country, within your state, and within miles of the situation, caused by a petty bureaucrat tyrant the President of Marquette University. And won’t even respond to questions.

    If I was the petty Chinese communist bureaucrat, or someone with power over him, and if I even cared about some commentary by Menzie Chinn, enough so I found out some information about him, I would dismiss him and his commentary, because of the fact that he was simply a busybody, trying to make waves where he does not belong, when he is silent were he does live.


    1. baffling

      ed, regarding the marquette situation you need to acknowledge the professor in question publicly cited the name of a student at the university, with respect to academic performance. most universities have strict policies regarding the public release of information regarding student performance-mostly because we have federal laws regarding that topic. that can be a terminal offense. regarding the professor in question, did the university follow its stated due process procedure when revoking tenure?

      1. Ed Hanson


        Why do you always take the slant of the left, do you have a mind of your own, oops wasted question. The person teaching the philosophy class was acting as and being paid an instructor. The student nonsense is exactly part of the reason for due process to be used to determine the severity of the infraction. Not the judgement of a single petty tyrant. But why would I ever think that process would be important to a lefty. Wasted effort.


      2. Rick Stryker


        No, that’s completely wrong. The tenured professor, John McAdams, revealed the name of a graduate student who was teaching an ethics class at Marquette in an article on his blog. He did not reveal any student’s academic performance. McAdams was reporting an incident in which a conservative student in the class complained that the graduate student was not allowing discussion of gay rights in what was supposed to be an ethics class. There was nothing illegal about revealing that name nor did it seem to be against University policy.

        However, the school went ballistic over the blog post and decided to fire McAdams under Section 306.03 of the faculty handbook even though he has tenure. I’ve followed the facts of the case and McAdams seems to be guilty of nothing other than “blogging while conservative.” Essentially, the Dean disagreed with the article, claimed some of the facts were incorrect, and used Section 306.03 to claim that McAdams’ “conduct clearly and substantially fails to meet the standards of personal and professional excellence that generally characterizes University faculties. As a result, your value to this academic institution is substantially impaired.” That charge echoes the language of 306.03. However, here is what 306.03 says in its entirety (relevant section bolded by me):

        “Discretionary cause shall include those circumstances, exclusive of absolute cause, which arise from a faculty member’s conduct and which clearly and substantially fail to meet the standard of personal and professional excellence which generally characterizes University faculties, but only if through this conduct a faculty member’s value will probably be substantially impaired. Examples of conduct that substantially impair the value or utility of a faculty member are: serious instances of illegal, immoral, dishonorable, irresponsible, or incompetent conduct. In no case, however, shall discretionary cause be interpreted so as to impair the full and free enjoyment of legitimate personal or academic freedoms of thought, doctrine, discourse, association, advocacy, or action.

        Very obviously, McAdams’ blog advocacy is allowed under 306.03. The whole point of tenure is protect academics from being fired for taking controversial positions. Marquette’s actions in this regard are an outrageous abuse of power, showing once again the most dangerous place for any conservative to be is on campus. Ed Hanson is right to bring this case up in this post, as we have examples right here in America of politically directed higher education.

      3. Anonymous

        ed and rick,
        the student in question was a graduate student. the student was teaching a class as part of her academic program of study. graduate students are routinely put into the classroom to develop that required skill set. this is a training exercise for the graduate student-and they need room to grow in this area. now you may want to disagree on this point, but this is how graduate students gain experience in order to become a faculty member. when the tenured professor named her, he publicly discussed the academic performance of a graduate student-this is a no-no. now you may have a problem with them putting a trainee into the classroom-and i would agree with this issue. in my opinion, full time faculty should be teaching courses, not graduate students, adjuncts, etc. but this was not a case of a phd being paid as an instructor-it was a case of a graduate student learning to operate in a classroom environment. and the performance of that graduate student should not be subject to public discussion by faculty at the institution.

        1. Rick Stryker


          No, your facts are wrong. The graduate student was not taking some of kind of class in which she was learning how to teach and was being graded on her performance. She was just hired to teach the class. That’s very common in Universities. More advanced graduate students are often hired to teach specific classes to help defray costs. The students get the stipend plus teaching experience. And the department gets cheap labor. When I was a graduate student I taught quite a few undergraduate classes myself. And I would have been expected to be held to and was in fact held to the same standards as anyone on the faculty in teaching those classes.

          The Dean at Marquette just invented some policies much as Dean Wormer put Delta Tau Chi on “double secret probation” in the movie Animal House. McAdams is not obligate in any way to mentor graduate students who teach classes. Moreover, there is no policy that disallows McAdams from publishing student names in his blog. The Dean just made it up. Moreover, the Dean is also revoking tenure because he challenges McAdams version of the facts in the case and his arguments. But there is no basis to revoke tenure based on such disagreements either.

          I already mentioned that McAdams’ blogging is allowed under Section 306.03 of the Faculty Handbook. But I’d also refer you to Section 307, which covers due process and procedures for cause. Section 307.07 says:

          “A faculty member who has been awarded tenure at Marquette University may only be dismissed upon a showing of absolute or discretionary cause, as these terms are defined by the Handbook for Full-Time Faculty (hereinafter University Statutes), Section 306.02 (absolute cause) or 306.03 (discretionary cause). Dismissal will not be used to restrain faculty members in their exercise of academic freedom or other rights guaranteed them by the United States Constitution.

          The First Amendment guarantees McAdams right to freedom of speech, which he exercised as a journalist while blogging. The University is violating its own rules in Section 306.03 and 307.07 in firing McAdams.

          All conservatives know that if the situation had been changed slightly, the outcome would have been very different. If a liberal blogger had exposed that a conservative graduate student was not allowing students to advocate for gay rights in an ethics class, the liberal blogger would have been congratulated and the graduate student would have been disciplined. And yet we are talking about China instead.

          1. Menzie Chinn Post author

            Rick Stryker: It is understood that serving as a teaching assistant is part of the educational process of a graduate student. That was true when I was a TA at UC Berkeley, it was true of my TA’s at UC Santa Cruz, it is true of TA’s here at University of Wisconsin. At some places, the TAing is formally accompanied by enrollment in a course practicum. I am pretty sure if I criticized a TA’s performance in a public forum (with names named), I’d get into trouble — and actually not just with the university, but legally. For some years now, we have had Federal *laws* in place against disseminating information about student performance (that’s why I can’t post grades outside my door using SIDs, even if I wanted too). Don’t know if they were in place when you were in school.

          2. baffling

            your understanding of the current university system is wrong. particularly at private institutions, it is not common at all for graduate students to be the instructor of record for undergraduate courses. perhaps this was the case during the dark ages when you attended school, but in the modern era this is not the case.

            this was a graduate student teaching a section of an ethics course. an incident occurred between her and an undergraduate, and a tenured professor from another department took this conflict public and named names. as i understand the situation, the graduate student eventually withdrew from marquette and is continuing her studies elsewhere. so a tenured faculty member created a situation where a student at the university could no longer comfortably continue her academic studies. this would certainly constitute a situation where the status of a tenured faculty member would be in question. or you don’t think a faculty members action resulting in the withdrawal of a student from the university is a serious event?

    2. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Ed Hanson: This is supposed to be your defense of your “Chinese will be Chinese” comment? Your statement was the most, frankly, stupid, narrow-minded, anti-intellectual, vacuous statement posted on this weblog (and that is saying a lot), so breathtakingly stupid that I neglected to answer your questions drawn from the right-wing blogospheric talking points. In any case, if that is a useful perspective on the world, well, then “Russians will be Russians”, “Americans will be Americans” and “Wisconsinites will be Wisconsinites” are equally valid means of discourse. So…let’s just close up the universities. No need for classes in Chinese political behavior; they’ll just act the way they have always done.

      While we’re on a anti-intellectual jag, let’s also revert to a cultural determinist mode of analysis. I think Confucianism explains the ability to mobilize resources directed from the highest levels, so as to achieve rapid economic growth. No matter that a century ago, the dead hand of Confucianism prevented adoption of policy measures that would have accelerated industrialization.

      I’ll also have to burn my books about Sun Yat Sen and the founding of the Republic, and also air brush away Mao Zedong’s Marxist tendencies (Marx was a German, yes?). The “Chinese will be Chinese”…. Geez.

  10. Ed Hanson

    So you still will not support due process for tenure in the name of academic and educational freedom, huh Menzie. Nor even comment on it.

    Sorry you don’t like the historical logic of the Chinese, I don’t subscribe to it either. So where is the same derision aimed at the POTUS for the same logic.


    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Ed Hanson: I didn’t know about the case, and still haven’t looked into it. I like to know what it’s all about before pontificating, unlike some people who mindlessly quote statistics dividing gross output by value added. Anyway, I didn’t know I was at the beck and call of commentators demanding I respond to all the latest faux outrage emanating from the conservative blogosphere.

      And, you misunderstand the President; he wasn’t saying “Christians will be Christians”. In fact he was saying quite the opposite. He was saying “there are religious extremists”, claiming to work under all sorts of banners.

      Finally, I will commit to writing an entire blogpost dissecting the mindset of the type of person who writes “Chinese will be Chinese” as a way of analyzing behavior. Look for it coming soon. Be assured I will give you proper credit.

  11. Rick Stryker


    The graduate student was not a TA assisting a faculty member in teaching a course. She was the instructor in PHIL 2310, Theory of Ethics, which is a Sophomore level course in the philosophy department.

    The law that you are referring to is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which prohibits the disclosure of student academic records. McAdam’s did not violate FERPA since he disclosed no academic records. And Marquette did not base its revocation of tenure on the allegation that McAdam’s violated FERPA.

    In fact, Marquette is not claiming that McAdam’s violated any laws or even any written policies. Quite simply, the Dean and some members of the faculty disagree with McAdam’s conservative blog posts. As a consequence they are claiming that McAdam’s has exhibited ” serious instances of ….. dishonorable, irresponsible, or incompetent conduct” that “substantially impair his value.”

    Why be against forbidding criticism of the Communist Party in Chinese classrooms but be in favor of forbidding criticism of leftist ideology in American classrooms?

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Rick Stryker: As a “graduate student instructor”, I was informed that the teaching I was doing — even as the instructor of record in a lecture course — was part of my education. If the similar proviso applies to GSI’s (as I was formally designated, whether I was a course teaching assistant, or instructor) at Marquette as at UC, then the student is … a student.

      Anwyay, I think I would be in trouble if I talked about a student’s performance, including teaching performance, in a public venue, maybe legal, maybe just administrative.

      1. Rick Stryker


        You think your tenure would be revoked if you did such a thing, especially if you were engaged in advocacy? You think your tenure should be revoked if you did such a thing?

        1. Menzie Chinn Post author

          Rick Stryker: You might find informational this article from The New Republic:

          Is it a violation of professional
          ethics for a professor to speak ill of a student online? And there, the answer’s an easy one: Yes. It’s not just a violation but a major one, as I’ve argued in the past, as it relates to instructors mocking student errors. If instructors attack students—and that includes grad
          students—online, the trust that holds a pedagogical environment together falls apart.
          McAdams’s defense is that he was never Abbate’s professor, but is simply commenting on the behavior of a fellow instructor. …

          But a grad student instructor isn’t a colleague to a tenured professor. Grad students can be gotten rid of far more easily, but more to the point, they rely on carefully built reputations to even stand a chance of making it past the various weeding-out processes (fellowship, postdoc, and faculty applications) that precede being up for tenure.

          If you look up the relevant UW faculty policies and procedures, you can see lots of reasons to dismiss a professor. Not sure McAdams’ actions replicated at UW would get me dismissed, but discipline/censure for sure. (By the way, if I don’t teach my classes, I would get fired — you seem to think tenure makes you invulnerable.)

          1. Rick Stryker


            Ok, a freelance writer at the New Republic who is not an academic believes that what McAdams did was a violation of professional ethics. She would have a stronger case if her opinion had been codified in a written policy at Marquette. But we can contrast her view with the letter the American Association of University Professors sent to the President of Marquette supporting McAdams and with the blog post at Academe magazine.

            But let’s take this freelance writer’s opinion seriously for a moment. She writes that “The problem comes from the fact that Abbate was a student at his university. Professors should never even risk sparking viral outrage against students.” Oh really. Then maybe after we finish revoking McAdam’s tenure should we move on to some more cases.

            We could, for example, return to the Duke Lacrosse rape case. Let’s recall how that ended. The Lacrosse players were pronounced “innocent” by the NC Attorney General. The prosecutor was fired, disbarred, and in fact jailed for outrageous prosecutorial misconduct. The accuser is now in jail for murder. Nonetheless, the 3 accused students’ lives were destroyed in a rush to judgment produced by an inflamed atmosphere.

            Let’s also recall what helped to produce that atmosphere. 88 faculty members at Duke, the so-called Group of 88, took out an ad 2 weeks after the rape accusation that was perceived to be highly inflammatory with respect to the accused students. Most of the Duke faculty opposed the ad and in fact a number of members of the economics department signed a statement disavowing it. The students’ defense team even argued that the students couldn’t get a fair trial as a result of the ad.

            I don’t think anyone at the time challenged the professors’ right to take out such an ad. I never thought to challenge it–academic freedom and all that. But under the new standard, shouldn’t Duke begin tenure revocation proceedings against all 88 signatories?

          2. Menzie Chinn Post author

            Rick Stryker: Glad you have come to my side of seeing things re: the improper aspects of critiquing in public the educational aspects (as opposed to non-educational aspects) of a student’s behavior.

            On the Duke issue, since I don’t follow almost anything having to do with athletics, university or otherwise (actually, it’s pretty much a personal rule of mine — after all there are only 24 hours in a day), I have no opinion. I do know Lacrosse has something to do with a stick, right? In any case, I’ll get back to you when I do.

    2. baffling

      rick, the professor in question publicly commented on the performance of a graduate student from another department. as a result, the graduate student left the institution to complete her graduate studies elsewhere. i think it is fair to say most faculty from around the country would consider such behavior on the part of the tenured faculty member egregious, and would not defend such behavior as protected by the concept of tenure.

      but it is a nice surprise to see rick stryker support the concept of tenure to its fullest potential. you are a liberal and not even aware of it!

        1. baffling

          no rick, it means there exist levels of behavior beyond which most faculty would consider unacceptable. harassment of a graduate student teacher would be one of those behaviors most faculty would accept.

          but i am encouraged by your support of faculty tenure!

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