Blind activist Chen Guangcheng says China's pressure forced him out of NYU

NEW YORK — A Chinese blind legal activist who escaped house arrest and fled to the United States last year says that pressure from China has forced New York University to end his tenure.

Chen Guangcheng said Sunday (June 16) that the Chinese government has been pressuring the university since the beginning of the 2012 academic year.

The New York Post, which reported the allegations on Thursday, linked Chen's impending departure to NYU's efforts to open a campus in Shanghai.

Chen, who grabbed headlines a year ago when he escaped long-term illegal house arrest in his hometown and took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, said in a statement, "The work of the Chinese Communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine."

"As early as last August and September, the Chinese Communists had already begun to apply great, unrelenting pressure on New York University, so much so that after we had been in the United States just three to four months, NYU was already starting to discuss our departure with us," he said.

NYU has denied the allegations, saying Chen's tenure which began last May was intended to last only a year.

The university has told Chen that his wife and two children must vacate the university housing by the end of June.

"Academic independence and academic freedom in the United States are being greatly threatened by a totalitarian regime," Chen said.

Despite the circumstances, Chen has expressed gratitude to the university, saying, "I'm very grateful to NYU for its help when my family was in a difficult period," and thanking NYU law professor Jerome Cohen by name. "We thank Professor Cohen and other friends for trying their best to help us. This assistance has allowed us to have a smooth transition to the United States," he said.

ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu, who has long championed Chen's cause, confirmed Chen's observation of Chinese government pressure on U.S. academia,.

"American universities are out chasing the China dollar and are very reluctant to work with dissidents who have a strong voice in China," said Fu. "It does not always have to be direct pressure from Beijing, there is also self-censorship, particularly if a college president believes their China campus or the future enrollment of Chinese students will be sabotaged."

Fu expressed dismay that these American universities are not living up to their reputation among Chinese. "This is unfortunate because U.S. institutions that welcome dissidents are seen as havens of religious freedom and free speech and will be more attractive to Chinese young people who can't experience these freedoms at home."

But, he added, "The Communist Party may have political control, but it does not control the hearts and minds of the Chinese people, who still look to the United States as a shining example of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. Hopefully, Chen's experience with NYU will not dim that view."