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Peking University Spokesman on the Xia Yeliang Issue

The Faculty Employment and Assessment Committee of the School of Economics, Peking University, recently decided not to renew the employment contract with Xia Yeliang as a result of its anonymous ballot. The decision is “not to renew the employment contract” with Xia Yeliang, not “firing” him. In other words, on the basis of assessment and anonymous ballot, the School of Economics’ Faculty Employment and Assessment Committee decided that Xia Yeliang was not qualified for the position of teaching in the School so that the employment contract with him would no longer renewed upon the expiration. The Faculty Employment and Assessment Committee consists of all 33 full professors of the School and 4 School leaders with associate title. The assessment vote was made according to the open, justifiable and standard procedures. Firstly, the anonymous ballot was made to ensure every committee member to judge independently; secondly, the recording of ballots was done on site as an open, transparent, and complete process; thirdly, as a routine, the agenda and the ballot arrangement were declared on site to avoid any  manipulation.


As early as Oct. 26th, 2012, the committee made anonymous ballot on the renewal of the employment contract with 12 faculties (including Xia Yeliang) on the expiration of their contracts. 22 of 33 members of the committee were present for the anonymous ballot. The result for Xia Yeliang was: 11 ballots against the renewal of his contract, 10 affirmative ones, and one abstention. It indicated that the contract with Xia Yeliang could not be renewed. Xia Yeliang was notified of the result in time. In order to provide Xia Yeliang with an opportunity to improve his performance, the School decided to revisit the issue of the renewal of his contract in one school year, with  the approval of the University. On Oct. 11th this year, the committee reconvened to decide “if the result of the last year’s anonymous ballot should be sustained”. 34 of 37 members of the committee were present (with four new members, including two newly-promoted full professors and two professors who returned as overseas visiting scholars). The result was 30 ballots against the renewals of his contract, three ballots for it, and one abstention, indicating far stronger opinion against Xia’s renewal. The notification was officially sent to Xia Yeliang on Oct. 18th, 2013.

 

The reason that most members of the committee voted against the renewal of Xia Yeliang’s contract lies in the performance of his teaching and research. With regard to his teaching, the result of annual teaching assessments since 2008 showed that he ranked lowest among the School faculties three times, the third lowest once, the fourth lowest once. His best performance was the sixth from the bottom twice. During the same period, more than 340 pieces of students’ complaints and criticism on his teaching were received, including a letter of request signed by over 20 students to demand replacing  Xia Yeliang. Such a demand is extremely rare at Peking University. The students mostly complained about his digressive talks and excessive waste of time on materials irrelevant to the course. Some of the comments are sharp criticism, for example “Please teach economics in class; don’t bullshit!” “You put the cart before the horse.” “Too much superficial digression.” “His words are full of garbage.” Some of the students’ comments described his teaching as extremely shallow, for example, “We need genuine knowledge”, “You teach too little as academic study.” The rumor on the internet that Xia Yelaing’s courses are “popular” is simply untrue. On the registration record of the School of Economics , for the three courses that Xia Yeliang proposed to teach in this school year, one was chosen by seven students, one by eight, and one by only three, which was cancelled because the three applicants failed to reach the minimum requirement of the University.

 

Students’ time is precious, and teaching time in class is also limited, and therefore no university would allow a teacher to digress tediously in class instead of teaching according to the syllabus. A teacher who does not teach  students course materials is not a qualified one. In an educational institution, it is the priority and basic requirement for a teacher to teach and educate students. With regard to the assessment of the teaching performance of a teacher, the comments of students who attend his class are of great importance. In the light of international practices, the assessment procedure to renew the employment contract with a teacher has certain standards, and the students’ feedback is one of the first and foremost elements for consideration. Additionally, in terms of research publications, according to the material provided by Xia Yeliang himself, he published only one research paper in Chinese Social SCI(CSSCI)journals (which was co-authored with one of his students) from August 2008 to January 2013.

 

Xia Yeliang is not a tenured faculty, and is employed on contract as an associate professor by the School of Economics in accordance with the University’s HR system. Such faculty and staff members in the system are administrated by the employment contract, and the renewal of a contract depends on professional assessment and anonymous ballot made by assessment committee. Since 2008, Peking University has terminated employment relation with 25 people upon the expiration of the contract, among whom, Xia Yeliang is included.

 

The University fully respects the decision made by the Faculty Employment and Assessment Committee of the School of Economics, and respects the judgment made independently by the professors of the committee. To evaluate a teacher upon the expiration of his contract and according to the regulations is a routine in personnel management of Peking University, and it is also a normal and necessary measure to assure teaching quality.

 

As a matter of fact, the School of Economics has been assisting Xia Yeliang. When his teaching assessment was unsatisfactory and students were loudly complaining, the School discussed with him for several times, advising him to be fully committed to teaching and research and devoted to educating students. In addition, the School approved him to go abroad as a visiting scholar, in hopes of improving his professional proficiency. Even when he failed to pass the assessment for the renewal of his contract, Peking University and the School of Economics decided to give him one more opportunity in light of the spirit of tolerance and benevolence by extending the termination of his contract for a school year, in hopes of his improvement.

 

As to the evaluation of a teacher, colleague teachers and students from the same school and department are best qualified in this respect. The decision of the School of Economics’ Faculty Employment and Assessment Committee was made without any interference or influence by factors other than his teaching and research. Groundless suspicion and accusation of committee members’ integrity and judgment is wrong and irresponsible. Peking University has been universally praised for its long tradition of academic freedom which we profoundly treasure and faithfully uphold. What is discussed here is but an ordinary issue of faculty management in Peking University and the School of Economics in particular, having nothing to do with other matters such as politics. Such comments as “punishment because of speech” and even the appalling accusation of “political persecution,” which are expressed by those who disregard the truth and have no interest to ascertain the truth, are totally baseless and irrational. If politics works like an almighty “amulet” that protects someone despite of his far-from-satisfactory academic performance in the eyes of most teachers and students, it would be political “kidnapping” and a most absurd thing for any university or faculty in the world. We separate politics from academics performances. Regardless of political view, a teacher must meet PKU standards to be a faculty member at this great higher learning institution.

 

A university is based on its teachers’ capability of and commitment to teaching and research. Such principle shall never be affected or altered. Peking University is all-embracing and will never discard its tradition of academic freedom. It is equally important to create a free environment for academic developments and require teachers to fulfill their duties and responsibilities. The two aspects are not contradictory to each other.