Dr. Kirk Allison: Self-Censorship Can Kick in at Universities With China-Related Programs

Narration: Dr. Kirk Allison directed the University of Minnesota’s Program in Human Rights and Health from 2006 to 2016. He’s an outspoken critic of China’s organ transplant system, which persistent and credible reports indicate supports a systematic, state-sanctioned organ harvesting from non-consenting prisoners of conscience including Falun Gong practitioners and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups. In 2012, the University of Minnesota granted an honorary doctorate to Chen Zhu, Minister of Health from China. Dr. Allison openly objected to it.

Simone Gao: In October 2012, the University of Minnesota granted an honorary doctorate to Dr. Chen Zhu. I think he was the Minister of Health from China. You were against it. Why?

Dr. Kirk Allison: In my view it’s not proper to provide an honorary doctorate for an individual who was sitting administratively at the top of a system in which prisoners in a death penalty system in which there’s insufficient representation, in particular, in which there’s been confirmed reports of prisoners of conscience being executed or being sources of organs, et cetera, to receive an honorary doctorate.

Narration: In 2016, Dr. Allison’s Program on Human Rights and Health was closed by the university.

Simone Gao: You were the director of the Program in Human Rights and Health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. And now that program was closed, right?

Dr. Kirk Allison: Right. And there are various justifications given for the closure of the program. I’m not wanting to get into too much detail, but I would say some of the justifications given have not, in my view, added up. And requests for transparency, particularly on financial claims and things, have not been forthcoming.

Simone Gao: So how much money did your program need?

Dr. Kirk Allison: It was not a great deal, in terms of these things. And, ironically, the year when it was closed, our income from tuition, even from the courses we did, far exceeded what our budget was and had been going up.

Simone Gao: Is the closure of your program connected to your research into this forced organ harvesting of Chinese prisoners of conscience in any way?

Dr. Kirk Allison: Probably not primarily. Though there’s a question of, if something is a bur under the saddle for some time in various areas, maybe does that count against, you know? So it’s a little hard to say.

Simone Gao: Even if the university didn’t say this is related to China, one cannot help thinking there’s an opportunity cost of getting China upset because the university is dependent on Chinese students. On the other side, there’s you.

Dr. Kirk Allison: There’s been a lot of discussion about this kind of thing … Even when David Matas came one time to talk, there was a situation in which somebody in an administrative structure wanted to look at the flyer that was being used to advertise the talk, which was extraordinary. Because at the time there was some sensitive program that was about to launch that was related to China. And so there can be a kind of self-censorship that kicks in. And if you’re wanting to be one of the top three universities or one of the whatever, it’s hard to do all of that and not play ball with a fifth of the world’s population.

Simone Gao: The university is paying a price. And part of that price is you and people like you.

Dr. Kirk Allison: Well, it may be in certain circumstances. And in that sense, one may end up being, quote, collateral damage.

Simone Gao: But do they care about the price they pay? The cost of you and your program?

Dr. Kirk Allison: It depends on what they think the cost-benefit analysis is.

Simone Gao: But what do you think?

Dr. Kirk Allison: Well, I feel sorry for the students is what I think.

Simone Gao: Are you going to continue on this path to investigate?

Dr. Kirk Allison: I intend to. And we’ll see what happens and in what format.

Simone Gao: Why is this important to you?

Dr. Kirk Allison: Well, I think human beings are important.

Narration: As of today, Dr. Kirk Allison’s program remains closed despite numerous letters of support from university staff members and individuals in human rights programs in the U.S. and internationally. The University of Minnesota has not responded to Zooming In’s request for an interview about the closure of the Program in Human Rights and Health.

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