Prominent law professor disputes NYU ‘booted’ Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng

June 13, 2013

NYU law professor Jerome Cohen, left, interviews Chen Guangcheng in New York. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Jerome Cohen, a New York University law professor who was closely involved in arranging Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng's escape from house arrest in China to the U.S., where he was granted a special scholarship at NYU law, says that a New York Post story alleging that Chen was "booted" from the university under Chinese government pressure is false and "highly distorted."

"My understanding with the Chens was that NYU could guarantee him one year in order to get their feet on the ground and transition to a more permanent position," Cohen said in an e-mail from China, where he often travels, adding, "I am grateful to the university administration for its extraordinary generosity, which could not reasonably be expected to go on indefinitely."

"No political refugee, even Albert Einstein, has received better treatment by an American academic institution than that received by Chen from NYU," Cohen said.

Cohen said that he had "never heard a word from anyone, including Chinese diplomats" suggesting that the Chinese government was pressuring NYU to end Chen's tenure there. The New York Post story alleged that NYU was expelling Chen from its campus to satisfy demands from Beijing and to ease the approval process for an NYU campus planned for Shanghai.

Chen, a self-taught lawyer who is blind, had drawn the Chinese government's wrath for organizing young women who had been the victims of forced abortions and encouraging them to file a suit against local officials in Chinese courts. He spent several years under house arrest before fleeing to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Cohen and several others helped to orchestrate a deal between the U.S. and Chinese government's for Chen and his family to leave for the United States, although some of Chen's extended family members are still in China and have suffered harassment from local police.

As Cohen points out, it would be very odd for the Chinese government to grant its permission for Chen to leave the country and then try to pressure NYU to push him off of its campus: If China can live with Chen taking his family to U.S. soil, surely it can accept his status at New York University law school.

In responding to the New York Post story, Cohen told a writer and former State Department official named Emily Parker, "No good deed goes unpunished." (Parker tweeted the quote, which Cohen confirmed was his.)

Cohen wouldn't say where Chen is going next, but did say that the Chinese dissident is choosing between two different offers.

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Max Fisher | June 13, 2013