The defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, gave a speech at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska. During the Q&A, he said to a questioner — or appeared to say to a questioner — “You’re not a member of the Taliban, are you?” This particular questioner was a professor named Robin Gandhi, born in India. Had the defense secretary just made a crude and nonsensical racial remark? Hagel denied it, saying he had not directed his comment at anyone in particular. He had been talking about the Taliban, and the Taliban were on his mind. He therefore made some sort of vague joke. Professor Gandhi, for his part, said he took no offense. So, there was no scandal. But we can’t help wondering: What if Hagel were a Republican? Oh, wait a second . . .
When Chen Guangcheng came to America, it was to New York University that he came. He is the “blind peasant lawyer” and former political prisoner from China. He is one of the bravest and most admirable people in all the world. Last April, he and his wife managed to escape to the U.S. embassy in Beijing. After weeks of negotiation, they were allowed to fly to New York — to NYU, where Chen has been for a year. Now they’re asking him to leave. Chen says that the university is under pressure from China. NYU is building a spanking-new campus in Shanghai, and they must be on the good side of Beijing. NYU says this is nonsense, and ungrateful nonsense at that: Chen has been royally treated, and his fellowship has simply expired. It’s impossible for us to tell who is right in this case (although we suspect that Chen knows what he’s talking about). What is not at all impossible to tell is this: For decades, American scholars, universities, and other institutions have cowered before China, and appeased China, for the sake of visas, financial contributions, and other benefits. This has tainted our academic life, which already suffers from enough home-grown ills.