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University president assignment spurs concern

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-06-27 07:27

HANGZHOU - Lin Jianhua was appointed president of Zhejiang University -- one of China's most prestigious universities -- amid controversy on Wednesday.

"I will work hard to provide professors and students with the opportunity to realize their potential and compete fairly," Lin said in his first speech as the university president.

His appointment came months after the post became vacant, with alumni protesting against the "assignment system" used to fill the position.

The position became available after former president Yang Wei became director of the National Natural Science Foundation of China in February.

Netizens subsequently speculated that Lin, former president of Chongqing University, would be the most likely candidate to be selected by the Ministry of Education to take the position.

Lin was previously vice president of Peking University, another prestigious university. The Organization Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the Ministry of Education are responsible for choosing the presidents of top universities like Zhejiang and Peking.

However, Zhejiang University alumni around the world have launched an Internet campaign to protest the opaque selection process.

A former student using the screen name "haiwaiqiushiying" put an open letter online on June 21, calling for alumni to jointly oppose Lin's expected appointment.

"A university with a history of 116 years needs a president who has a proper education background in order to carry on its distinguished cultural legacy," the former student wrote.

The former student pointed out that three former Zhejiang University presidents -- Lu Yongxiang, Pan Yunhe and Yang Wei -- had either made outstanding academic achievements at the school or boasted an internationally acknowledged reputation.

The online protest was taken on by university alumni associations in North America, France, Spain, Italy and Japan.

The general alumni association of Zhejiang University issued a notice on Saturday appealing to the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee and the Ministry of Education to select a proper person to take the presidency, specifying that the candidate should "be academically established, in the prime of their life and boast a strong social influence."

The 58-year-old Lin is considered by many to be too old for the job.

The presidency of a top university is considered to be an official post, which is is why the nominations are made by authorities.

A Zhejiang University professor who requested anonymity said Tuesday that the protest is not targeting Lin, but the appointment system.

"I support different voices in the selection of the president," the professor said.

The Ministry of Education started reforming the university president appointment system in 2011. Since then, five institutions, including the Northeast Normal University, the Southwest University of Finance and Economics and the Beijing University of Science and Technology, have used open recruitment in selecting presidents.

However, none of China's top universities, such as Peking University and Tsinghua, have seen a liberalization in the policy.

Professor Xie Jian from the City College of Wenzhou University said Zhejiang University should use open recruitment, as the practice is common at other elite schools around the world.

The general alumni association of Zhejiang University on Monday issued a notice that changed its tone from Saturday.

The association expressed gratitude for the concerns raised by alumni over university affairs and called for its members to unite and support the university's new president.

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