Stick to the message

By Lin Meilian Source:Global Times Published: 2013-6-19 21:23:01

Students from Huazhong University of Science and Technology attend a speech about college life on May 19 in Wuhan, Hubei Province. Photo: IC

Students from Huazhong University of Science and Technology attend a speech about college life on May 19 in Wuhan, Hubei Province. Photo: IC

China's 860,000 college lecturers have their summer homework: how to improve their sense of social responsibility with ideological and political training.

Last week, 37-year-old law Professor Zhang Xuezhong of East China University of Political Science and Law  was invited to discuss his article about China's constitutional debate, which is said to have violated the Several Opinions of Further Enforcement and Improvement of Ideological and Political Education to Young University Teachers released jointly by the Educational Ministry last month.

According to the Opinions, young university teachers under the age of 40 have a great influence on guiding students' behaviors and thoughts because they are close to them in age and can better communicate with them.

"However, some young university teachers have confused political belief and lost faith," it said. "Intensified ideological and political training for college lecturers will have a profound impact on cultivating the successors of socialism."

 But according to Weibo posts, Zhang's friends see the Opinions as "regulations against Zhang" since he has called for the downfall of Marxism in politics, culture and education.

The Opinions caused online debate as many said it limits young university teachers' freedom of expression and seeks to silence them. However, some educators argue that teachers should be responsible for ideologically guiding students.

"There is no limitation or boundary of academic discussion, but when it comes to cultivating students, educators should be responsible and careful for what they talk about and show their students," Zhao Feng, professor of education of University of International Business and Economics told the Global Times.

Freedom of expression zones

Until 2010, there were about 860,000 college lecturers under the age of 40 in China, accounting for 63.3 percent of all lecturers. Many of them are struggling to navigate the sophisticated education system to advance their academic careers and make a living despite a low pay but a heavy workload.

The Opinions offer a carrot and stick approach to young college lecturers, said Chen Hongguo, a law professor from the Northwest University of Politics and Law in Shaanxi Province. "On one hand, they know you are facing difficulties and can help alleviate them, on the other hand, if you do something inappropriate in class, you might lose your job."

Zhang Lijuan, professor of Marxism at Xinjiang Normal University, told the Global Times that students are not easy to guide ideologically.

"There are a lot of things on the Internet that might confuse students. There must be someone to protect their spiritual worldview."

Earlier last month, Zhang revealed on Weibo that a notice had been circulating in his university banning college lecturers from discussing seven topics with students, namely freedom of speech, judicial independence, universal values, civil society, civil rights and the past mistakes of the Party.  

Many college lecturers reached by the Global Times said they had not been briefed by university administrators and could not confirm the existence of the notice.

But Professor Chen said he doubts it is just a rumor because the authorities have not clarified the matter yet.

"As a law professor, if I can't talk about civil society and civil rights, I don't know what else I can talk about?" asked Chen.

Chen is no stranger to being silenced. Last December, his book club Citizens for Self-governance & Cooperation that aims to promote the importance of civic education for young people was shut down by university authorities.

Students were discouraged from attending a discussion of Science as a Vocation, the text of a lecture given in 1918 at Munich University by pioneering sociologist Max Weber.

This semester, the university administrator also sought to cancel some of his classes on law and literature, saying they were too theoretical. Chen fought back, writing letters to the principal to explain how popular and important his class was. The decision was finally dropped.

"The administrator said they were planning to install cameras in classrooms next semester, I welcome the idea as I am not afraid to let everyone know what I teach in class," Chen said.
Majority stays quiet

However, not every college lecturer speaks out as Zhang does with the majority choosing to stay silent about their political opinion, according to a survey.

About 91 percent of 5,138 young university teachers said they chose not to voice their political opinions as they fear the pressure that would result, according to a nationwide survey conducted by Chinese sociologist Lian Si.

Lian compares young university teachers under the age of 40 to worker bees, which are the most hardworking and intelligent in the hive, yet have the lowest social status.

Lian and his team conducted surveys among young university teachers under the age of 40 in 135 universities in China in 2011. They found over 78 percent of them feel they are working under great pressure to meet their research and teaching workload.

"Many of them spend 30 percent of their time on teaching, 70 percent of their time on research and going after academic titles as they all lead to promotion," Lian said.

Members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference call for more help to be given to young university teachers by creating a more relaxing working environment and a fair competition system to fund their research.

Professor Zhao said the work pressure and relatively low pay are the causes of their frustration against the society and have weakened lecturers' sense of social responsibility.

"The university authorities should pay more attention to their psychosocial problems," Zhao said. "Otherwise they see the job just as a paycheck."

Keep it personal

The study also found out that 63 percent of college lecturers like to talk about their personal experience in class. About 40 percent of them said they will not avoid exposing the dark side of society to their students, but 89 percent said they would prefer to pass along some positive values.

The communication between young university teachers and students somehow worry the authorities.

Professor Zhao said that like many students, young university teachers also find themselves overloaded with information and find it hard to tell right from wrong.

"Especially in recent years a lot of young college lecturers have studied abroad and so see things differently from the older generation of educators," said Zhao. "So it is very important to make sure they pass along positive values to their students."

Guo Wei, a student of Renmin University of China, told the Global Times that he enjoys young teachers' criticism about society when made with good intentions.

"Party members are encouraged to speak the truth, I believe their criticism aims to help build a more diverse and sustainable society," Guo said.

But Guo added many college students would think critically about what they are taught.

"Many students, especially those majoring in political science, analyze critically what their teachers tell them in class. The teacher has to make sense." Guo said.

Xue Yuanyuan, studying at East China University of Science and Technology agreed.

"It is more interesting to hear teachers talk about hot social issues and politics," Xue told the Global Times.

The Opinions also call for young university teachers who have studied abroad to join the Party. Many university administrators have taken a personal hand in the career development of college lecturers.

Take University of International Business and Economics for example, where a special forum has been set up for young university teachers to voice their concerns about life and work pressure, said professor Zhao.

Since 2010, the Educational Ministry has encouraged young teachers to aim to climb the career ladder and to take more responsibility, which aims to create more communication channels between teachers and students.

"It gives university teachers a chance to grow together with their students," Zhao said, "in the hope that they can teach with passion and pass along positive values."

Ni Wei contributed to this story

Posted in: In-Depth

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