Chinese university sacks professor over sexual misconduct accusations
Alleged victim hails success of the #MeToo movement, which seeks to expose sexual predators
A Chinese university has sacked a prestigious scholar following accusations of sexual misconduct against him by multiple women, the result of a campaign heralded by his chief accuser as the start of a Chinese chapter of the #MeToo movement.
Beihang University in Beijing said in a message on its official microblog late on Thursday that an investigation found that Chen Xiaowu’s behaviour had violated professional ethics and created an “odious influence on society”.
Chen has been relieved of his duties, including as professor and deputy head of graduate students, it said.
“Morality and ability are paired; actions and talent are one. This is the demand of Beihang’s values and the school has zero tolerance for violations of professorial ethics,” the statement said, pledging also to upgrade mechanisms and increase its attention to such issues.
The official China News Service said the move followed accusations of sexual misconduct against Chen by Luo Xixi, a Chinese academic now based in the US, and at least five other women. The allegations date from as far back as a dozen years ago.
Calls to Chen’s office at Beihang rang unanswered on Friday and a graduate school receptionist said she had not seen him.
He was quoted by the official newspaper Beijing Youth Daily earlier this month as saying that he had done nothing that was illegal or violated school discipline. He said he would await the result of the school’s investigation.
Luo hailed the school’s decision on her Weibo microblog as a “victory in the initial stage” and said that she and the other women involved would continue to monitor Beihang’s handling of the matter.
“Women who have awoken to themselves are even more powerful!” Luo wrote, while congratulating Chen’s other accusers who had chosen to remain anonymous.
“Kindness and bravery are our most beautiful expressions,” she wrote.
Chen is among a select few named by China’s education ministry to the Cheung Kong Scholars Programme, considered one of the country’s highest academic honours. The programme, funded by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, is also known as the Changjiang Scholars and the Yangtze River Scholars.
According to reports, he holds a doctorate and multiple honours in computer engineering. His personal profile was removed from Beihang’s website on Friday.
According to a December 31 post on her official Weibo microblog using the #MeToo hashtag, Luo said she was inspired by the movement originating in the United States to expose sexual predators.
She said she was a graduate student under Chen’s advisement in 2004, when he drove her to his sister’s home, ostensibly to water the flowers. After he attempted to force himself on her, Luo resisted and Chen backed off, driving her home and telling her to keep quiet about the matter.
Luo said she suffered from depression after the incident and subsequently moved to the US to continue her studies.
“I know there is a risk in standing up. My family’s privacy is my biggest concern,” she wrote. “I know my status as being overseas might expose me to nasty attacks, so it is a double-edged sword.”