23 January 2007

Kafka on the Charles, Chinese child theft, and the usual sex scandals


Two stories hit the wires recently: a tiff between Princeton
University and the townies (dog bites man; sky blue) and a child
custody dispute in Tennessee. Both emerge from a little-discussed and
highly sordid corner of college life: University justice.

First, from the Princetonian,
there’s a fight between Princeton University and the local prosecutor
over a case of assault involving some undergraduates. What appears to
be at issue is the University’s judicial process, which the locals
think is interfering with their investigation.



For reasons that also remain unclear, Mercer County
assistant prosecutor William Burns threatened the University with
legal action when it began its internal disciplinary hearing.



“If you continue to demand [that the victim] supply documents
pertaining to any criminal charges, you may be charged with
… Obstructing the Administration of Law [and] Hindering
Prosecution,” Burns was quoted as writing to the University on Jan. 8,
according to a reply letter by University General Counsel Peter
McDonough.


Given that the University judicial process (oops, two judicial
processes —- the Honor Committee, which handles in-class cheating,
and the Committee on Discipline, which handles everything else) has
never been a shining example of transparency, I tend to side with its
critics, whatever their reasons. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t
tell us prosecutor’s beef is.



The alleged assault victim’s lawyer has a more pointed critique:



The recent conflicts between the University and law
enforcement authorities show that current practice of dual,
independent frameworks is unacceptable, Murphy said. Calling the
University disciplinary process an attempt to “resemble a
fully-functional mini-criminal trial,” Murphy said that the
University’s efforts usurped the power of local authorities.


My feelings exactly —- you’ll see why in a moment.



A bigger-deal case just made the national headlines: a Chinese couple
won custody of their daughter after the Tennessee Supreme Court
overturned the decision of a Memphis judge who had awarded custody
to a foster family.



According to the article, the parents, Shaoqiang He, and his wife, Qin
Luo He, fell upon hard times and sent their month-old daughter to live
with another family [editor’s note: WTF?!] temporarily. When they
wanted her back, the other family refused to give her up.



The case spurred the usual complaints about anti-Chinese prejudice in
the judicial system; how it was stacked against foreigners with poor
English; the usual. (Interestingly, half of the Google hits during my
searches on the subject were from English-language versions of Chinese
newspapers.) But that’s not the interesting part. The interesting part
is how the He family’s financial difficulties came
about. According to the AP story:




Anna Mae was born in 1999 shortly after her father, a student at the
University of Memphis, was accused of a sexual assault. He was
ultimately acquitted, but the charge cost him a scholarship and the
student stipend that was his family’s primary source of income.


A 24 January 2002 article from Life magazine provides a bit more detail.




Anna Mae was born on Jan. 28, 1999, into poverty and turmoil. Her father, “Jack” Shaoqiang He, 37 — known around this friendly Southern town as “Mister He” — was a visiting college professor from China who came to the USA on a student visa and was pursuing a doctorate in economics at the University of Memphis.



Here he married “Casey” Qin Luo, 34, a Chinese woman he met through a friend back home. She spoke no English, but she shared his strong faith and love for America, Mister He says. They planned to build a good life together.



But in 1998, when Casey was pregnant with Anna Mae, her husband was charged with assaulting a fellow student. He and the student, a Chinese woman named Xiaojun Qi (pronounced Key), went to a computer lab alone; a week later Qi went to school officials, displayed bruises and said Mister He caused them during a sexual assault.



Mister He vehemently denies the allegation. He says he left the lab feeling uncomfortable after the woman asked him for a $500 loan. But the university dismissed him, his income from the university vanished and his student visa hung on his collegiate appeal.



On Thanksgiving in 1998, the Hes left their one-bedroom apartment and went to the grocery store. They were attacked by several men, and Casey was knocked down. That night she began suffering vaginal bleeding. Her condition worsened until doctors finally, in January, delivered Anna Mae by C-section, one month premature.



With a $12,000 hospital bill, a criminal assault charge and a continuing legal fight to try to get reinstated at the university, the Hes sought help in caring for their baby. Friends at their church suggested a local adoption agency.



Mid-South Christian Services agreed to place the baby in a foster home for three months. They placed her with Jerry and Louise Baker.



One minor point: according to Factiva, the marriage between Shaoqiang
He, 37 and Qin Luo, 33, is listed in the marriages section of the
January 9, 2002 Memphis Commercial Appeal — meaning that the
parents would not have been married at the time of the birth of the
child in four years before, in 1998. Either the Appeal article is
mis-dated (it wouldn’t be the first time), or the Life author has
his timeline wrong (“husband” should have been “future husband.”)



Soon after the Baker family foster placement, the legal wrangling over
the child began. But the interesting part is how they got there: the
University judicial process that prompted the He family to place their
kid in foster care in the first place. It reminded me of a href=“http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/169.html”>case on the
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s website:



A Harvard graduate student has been barred from
continuing his studies because a fellow student accused him of sexual
assault in January of 2002. The student was acquitted on all six
counts of rape and assault by Middlesex Superior Court last August and
his accuser was shown to be fabricating parts of her story at the
trial. Despite this, Harvard has not readmitted him and has not
dropped its own charges against him.


(FIRE, it should be noted, is a pressure group —- if you hadn’t
guessed when you saw that they refer to Harvard as “Kafka on the
Charles.” Not that I disagree with much of what that they do.)



The Boston Globe
and the Harvard
Crimson
also
covered the case. As a biographical tidbit, the non-assault didn’t
happen in Child Hall, which is right near where I used to live. It’s
the Gropius-designed wall on the left side of this
photo.

Apologies on the lack of a better picture.



I don’t know what has happened to the student in question, Georgi
Zedginidze. The latest word that I saw was a Crimson columnist blasting
the University’s policy of wrist-slapping convicted rapists while
simultaneously jack-booting the acquitted. The author laments the
“Coalition against Sexual Violence’s” successful demands to eliminate
the right of confrontation from the University judicial process.



Erin O’Connor, who writes about academic excess, had similar complaints about the He case back in 2004:




Had officials at the University of Memphis accorded Shaoqiang He due process, had they held firmly to the tenet that in this country a person is always innocent until proven guilty, he would not have been expelled on the basis of an accusation. He would not have been deprived of his education, he would not have had his career prospects ruined, and he would not have lost his daughter.



[...]



The Hes plan to return to China after the dispute about their daughter is settled.



If they do plan to return, now that they have four children, I wonder
how they’ll skirt the one-child policy? I understand that a lot of
Chinese who intended to go back elect to stay in the U.S. when they
realize that their kids will get the worst of it when they return.



On that note, despite O’Connor’s closing line, Larry Parrish, the lawyer
for the foster family, accused the Hes of engineering the dispute as a
means of staying in America. An href=“http://media.www.dailyhelmsman.com/media/storage/paper875/news/2006/10/13/News/Custody.Battle.Continues.To.Rage-2348600.shtml?sourcedomain=www.dailyhelmsman.com&MIIHost=media.collegepublisher.com”>article
in the University of Memphis’s student newspaper quotes Parrish:




“Jack He is extremely intelligent and very fluent and is a con-artist. He is the best I’ve ever seen,” Parrish said. “He plays on the sympathies of other people. He creates situations that are not real.”



Parrish contended the Hes were using the situation as a way to stay in America. If not for the custody battle the Hes would have been deported, Parrish said.



Parrish also said, “he is the most dishonest witness I have ever seen. That’s why the courts have found him completely without credibility.”



I assume this is the usual character assassination one would expect from
an thorough attorney. Does it lend any credence to the original
charges against He? It’s doubtful: He was cleared by a court of law.



And that’s where the stories converge: in each of these cases, a
University judicial system ignored the verdict of a court of law and
soldiered on, either finding the student guilty or thrusting him into
academic limbo. In the Harvard case, Zedginidze had taken a leave
during the trial, and was all but told not to petition for
re-admission, as Harvard might (if he reapplied) actually find him
guilty of rape and expel him.



According to the Globe, if Zedginidze managed to persuade the
university to schedule a hearing, he’d have no right to confront his
accuser, no right of cross-examination, and no right to an attorney —
in other words, standard practice for the Star
Chamber
a University tribunal. The Honor Committee at
Princeton has much the same rules. I’m not sure about the Committee on
Discipline, but I’d be shocked if it were much better.



As for the He case, the articles that I’ve read do not give the
specifics of the University’s sanctions. Was He actually expelled? Was
he “persuaded” to take a leave of absence, as was Zedginidze? Or did
the U. of Memphis just cancel his fellowship? As doctoral students are
generally paid by the University to go to school, the latter would be
a crippling loss. In most fields, if you are paying for a doctorate,
you’re probably being ripped off. There is a quid pro quo, of
course: the students provide fairly cheap labor, which is why schools
(particularly schools of the humanities) admit so many of them. But I
digress — you can read more about that
here.



In any event, one can only be happy that the He family has been
reunited. One wonders how we ended up with a system were
unaccountable-bureaucrat courts can ruin students’ careers (and,
indirectly, break up families) on the basis of allegations that real
courts have found to be baseless.



On the other hand, would Shaoqiang He have fared better, had he not
been in tried by the University of Memphis’s tribunal, but in his
native China?



The awful part is that I’m not sure.

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