On July, 18, 2018, Christopher Balding, an associate professor at Peking University’s (PU) HSBC School of Business, announced that the university refused to renew his contract in retaliation for his public criticisms of government policy and academic censorship.
Balding, a US citizen, has been a professor at PU for nine years. While in China, Balding frequently engaged in public criticism of government policies related to economics, censorship, and surveillance, via social media and in the popular press.
In August 2017, Baulding launched an online petition demanding that Cambridge University Press (CUP) lift restrictions on its China-based users’ access to certain content in its journal China Quarterly. The restrictions were allegedly requested by the Chinese government. Shortly after news of the restrictions and the petition went viral, CUP lifted these restrictions.
According to Balding, in the months following the petition, university officials notified him that his contract would not be renewed. A university official described the decision as normal and relating to Balding’s performance, but did not comment on his expressive activity. Balding publicly shared news of the non-renewal in a July 18, 2018 blog post. In announcing the news, he wrote “China has reached a point where I do not feel safe being a professor and discussing even the economy, business and financial markets.” The non-renewal of Balding’s contract comes against the backdrop of a growing number of scholars and students reportedly facing disciplinary actions in apparent retaliation for their public views.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the refusal to renew a scholar’s contract in apparent retaliation for peaceful, expressive activity. University authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with academic freedom or expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Professional retaliation intended to punish such activity harms academic freedom and related higher education values including social responsibility.