Academic Misconduct in China – “What’s Law Got to do, Got to do with it?”

Academic corruption has been a hot topic in the media over the past year. The China Law and Politics blog posts an article by lawyer Cao Xinglong looking at the legal aspects of the issue and the failure of the courts to intervene. The article tells the story of an academic who appealed to his university when he was denied a promotion:

The assistant professor made his appeal in December 2009. Now, three months later and way past the 30-day time frame, neither the government Department nor the University has issued an official response; unofficially though, the Department and the University have pressured the professor to drop it. As a result, he abandoned his appeal and the opportunity to bring the case into court.

But even if he did bring his case to court, prior precedent shows that he would have failed there as well. In 2003, two professors at a different university in southern China, another State-affiliated university, sued the Department for its refusal to arbitrate their complaints of unfair treatment in their University’s Academic Title Competition. The Court dismissed their action on the grounds that the Department should not interfere in a university’s internal affairs and tamper with its academic autonomy. In other cases that question university promotion procedures, courts continuously refuse to extend jurisdiction for similar reasons. The courts’ reasoning of “internal affairs” and “academic autonomy,” undermines the purpose of the Teachers’ Law and leaves aggrieved faculty members with nowhere to go.

Although academic institutions might seem self-governed and that power dynamics among the academic elite remains an internal affair, the government does have authority to rein in these institutions. For example, on October 29, 2009, one of the State’s administrative departments announced that it had established a special panel to punish its affiliate universities’ academic misconduct. Soon after unfortunately, the department decided that it was not in fact obliged to take such action.

As a result, China has established a system by which academia largely polices itself, and the law plays little to no role. And often an academic’s personal benefit dwarfs that which is right and honest. New Threads (, a pivotal website exposing academic misconduct in China, amasses a great number of postings charging the misuse of academic power; power used for illegitimate benefit, such as money, honor, or even sex.

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