University Sexual Harassment Scandal Stirs Debate

July 29, 2014
By Sun Li and Hu MeidongEditor: Frank Zhao

A scandal involving a university professor's alleged sexual harassment of a student is refueling debate over abuse on Chinese campuses.

When college teacher Ai Qing began her postgraduate studies at the education college of a university in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, she could not contain her excitement.

The college dean, a famous scholar surnamed Xu, would act as her tutor.

"I always admired university professors. I thought that someone like Xu who had excellent academic credentials would help me a lot with my research and study," she said.

But Ai soon felt something was wrong.

Xu started sending her cellphone messages, asking her whether she had a boyfriend and about her previous relationships with men.

One day, the professor told her to stop by his office. He wanted her to work as his part-time secretary, claimed Ai who is not using her real name to protect her identity.

But Ai rejected Xu's offer that day. She became depressed in the following months and decided to leave the university.

Ai said that because of her personal encounters, she is not surprised by the latest major scandal to hit Chinese tertiary education - a history professor in Xiamen University of Fujian Province has been accused of molesting and enticing female students into having sex.

The professor drawing the nationwide attention is Wu Chunming.

A blogger using the Internet moniker "Youth Handle" alleged in an online post that the history professor had enticed female students into having sex with him.

A photo supposedly featuring the man in bed and partially nude was also posted online.

The blogger claimed to be one of the victims of the professor and wanted to support another alleged victim of the history department who had earlier made online postings about being molested by an unnamed professor.

The other alleged victim, using the online name "Ting Yang", had posted online warnings in June for potential female postgraduates to keep away from a "beastly professor" of the department.

Xiamen University has set up a special team to investigate the allegations. During the probe, Wu will be prohibited from teaching, enrolling and advising students.

Recent years have seen a string of similar cases.

In 2011, a netizen posted a blog claiming that a professor at a university specializing in geosciences had required his female students to visit his home to discuss their studies and urged those who refused his request to consider the consequences.

In 2013, a netizen exposed on the Internet that the wife of Qiu Ting, a professor at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, allegedly attempted suicide because Qiu had extramarital affairs with many female students.

Guan Kefeng, who works in the IT sector, is a graduate of Xiamen University. He said he does not know Wu Chunming and is embarrassed from being asked about the scandal-hit professor just because he is from the same university.

Like many others who showed interest in the case, Guan started to check the previous blogs of "Ting Yang", the first student who exposed the affairs.

Guan said his jaw dropped when he read the allegations claiming that Wu had touched Ting Yang's body and tried to kiss her when two of them were alone. Wu allegedly asked her to "take it easy" since both of them are adults.

"I never thought a university professor could do something like that," Guan said.

"If the accusations are proven to be true, the professor indeed is 'beastly', as what Ting Yang described in her blog," he said.

Lin Zhiming, a lawyer based in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, said that Wu Chunming's case is not a legal issue but a moral one.

"Enticing a female student to sleep with him does not mean he did it against her will. If Wu managed to talk a student into having sex with him, it is a consensual situation," Lin said.

Although such behavior does not violate the law, it goes against the university's pertinent regulations and is unethical, Lin said.

Lin suggested that students who have been or may be harassed by professors should be brave and collect evidence to expose the educators' immoral acts.

Ai Qing, the college teacher who claimed she had been harassed by her tutor when she started her postgraduate studies in 2007, said she considered Ting Yang a hero for being bold enough to expose her professor's alleged acts.

After quitting her course, Ai learned from former classmates that some of her seniors had also suffered from Xu's alleged harassment.

"The more you are shy and timid, the more outrageously the teachers will bully you," Ai said.

Ai said her former tutor tried to use his position to intimidate her.

"Be a smart and good girl and I will fix every problem related to your studies. I can help you find a decent job after you graduate," Ai claimed that Xu said to her.

"He tried to put his hand on my shoulder but I evaded it," she said. "I was in pain and under tremendous pressure."

"I expected a professor to be gentle, civilized and refined. Student and teacher should respect each other.

"Those notions were completely shattered."

Ai said the professor continued to harass her. He told her there would be a three-month assessment for each postgraduate student in their first year of study, she said.

"He said that if the student did not behave well, the tutor had the right to ask the student to leave," Ai said.

"I regret not exposing him and I will definitely collect proof to report Xu to the university authorities if I have a second chance," Ai said.

Zuo Lei, who received his doctorate from a university in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province, said the relationship between professors, especially those who act as tutors, and students are somehow "profit-tinged".

Individual Interests

In Chinese campus culture, tutors are dubbed "bosses". Postgraduate students spend as much time as they can to help their supervisors with academic work as well as errands, Zuo said.

A supervisor has much say in whether his students can graduate or not because he is the first person who approves of their theses, Zuo said.

"An established professor often has lots of resources. He can recommend his students to companies or other universities after they graduate," he said.

"In this regard, a professor has a lot of opportunity to take advantage of students."

Students are certainly in a vulnerable position given their tutors' authority, said Gan Mantang, a sociologist at Fuzhou University in Fujian Province.

But the campus sexual harassment cases making the headlines cannot be generalized, Gan said.

"It is common for a university student to have a crush on her teacher and it is acceptable that they have a relationship if both are single," Gan said.

"But if a university educator uses his power to coerce female students into relationships, that would be despicable," Gan said.

Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said Chinese education authorities must establish a system that will allow universities, teachers, students, students' relatives and media to actively supervise teachers' behavior.

"Education authorities should make public every case involving teachers with unethical behavior and effectively punish them, to help deter others", Xiong said.

"University students should also set up student committees to protect their interests," he said.

Alumni, Students Call for Action

Seventy-six students and alumni of Xiamen University have written a letter to the university's president, calling on the institution to make regulations to prevent sexual harassment.

Their letter follows allegations that a history professor had enticed female students into having sex with him.

The allegations have sparked controversy on the Internet, with a host of netizens condemning the professor's alleged behavior.

Li Furui, who initiated the letter from the 76 people, said she is glad that the university has launched a probe over the case.

"The university should make the investigation results public and handle the case fairly, or its reputation will be damaged," said Li, who graduated from the university in 2011.

The 76 people wrote to Zhu Chongshi, president of Xiamen University, saying that setting up a mechanism to prevent sexual harassment is an effective way to protect the university's reputation.

The letter suggested that the university make regulations to forbid teachers from having intimate relationships with students.

The letter also said the university authorities should allow people to report sexual harassment cases and make the relevant investigations and punishments known to all faculty members and students.

The university is facing mounting pressure after the case, and it must take action, said Qiu Lufeng, a law professor at Nanjing University who graduated from Xiamen University in 1980.

Li Furui said that according to her research, no university on the Chinese mainland has made rules to prevent sexual harassment.

"Hopefully, Xiamen University will take the lead and set an example for other universities," Li said.

The letter was mailed to the university on July 24 and had not received any feedback by press time.

Xiamen University President Zhu Chongshi was not available for comment.

Continuing Controversy

Xiamen University authorities have suspended the professor who allegedly sexually harassed female students pending investigations, but online vitriol over the case continues to grow.

"Ting Yang", the online moniker used by the netizen who created a stir on the Internet with a blog "exposing" the professor's alleged acts, has hit back at those who are defending him.

The 122 students who have defended Wu Chunming are being "used" by a female student who had an affair with the professor, Ting Yang claimed.

"Rather than helping find the truth, the letter is interfering with the probe," the post by Ting Yang said.

Ting Yang was responding to a joint letter written by the students who defended Wu.

In the letter released online on July 21, the students, most of whom were tutored by Wu, claimed that the online accusations have done tremendous harm to the reputation of the professor and the university, and they felt shocked and angry.

The letter said Wu is a dedicated professor known for being strict with students.

"None of the students, including those who graduated from the university in various years, have heard about Wu sexually harassing female students," the letter said.

The letter added that Ting Yang used to be a doctoral candidate for archaeology and entered the university in 2007. She failed to obtain her doctorate due to "personal issues", it claimed.

The letter said that Ting Yang held a grudge against the professor for unknown reasons and urged the university's investigation team to find out the truth as soon as possible. The investigative team said it is encouraging the reporting of evidence that would help solve the case.

Neither Ting Yang nor Wu could be reached for comment.

(Source: China Daily)

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