Chinese vice-dean accused of 'inappropriate' behavior

BEIJING — A vice-dean at a prestigious Chinese university has been stripped of his title because of "inappropriate" behavior toward female students, according to a member of the faculty.

The demotion comes as China's nascent #MeToo movement gains momentum on university campuses, presenting a potential challenge to authorities wary of student unrest.

The dean of Shanghai Jiaotong University's School of Media and Design told instructors that Xie Yungeng is no longer a vice-dean and can no longer advise master's students, Wei Wuhui, an assistant professor at the school, told The Associated Press. Wei said they were told it was because of Xie's "inappropriate remarks and inappropriate actions toward female students."

It was not clear whether Xie is still teaching classes.

Wei said that while the dean did not use the words "sexual harassment" in his announcement, staff members understood that "inappropriate touching" had taken place.

The offices of the dean and party secretary of Jiaotong's School of Media and Design, as well as the university's propaganda department, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Xie also did not respond to requests for comment.

The investigation into Xie began at the start of the month, when a veteran professor reported that a female doctoral student had spoken to him about Xie's behavior after she applied to leave the program, Wei said. An administrator told Wei that the school has not made an official announcement regarding Xie because the investigation is still in a "preliminary" stage.

Caixin, a prominent Beijing-based publication, cited the School of Media and Design dean's announcement in a report Thursday, but it was not immediately clear if Caixin had spoken to the dean directly.

"Professors hold immense power over their students," said Wei, who published an account of the faculty meeting on his public WeChat account Wednesday evening. "I really can't put up with this kind of behavior."

Yu Ran, a recent School of Media and Design graduate, said a professor told her earlier this month that Xie was under investigation.

She said she was pleased that the university acted so quickly in removing Xie from his post, but hoped that it would offer an official account of what happened and establish a system to help students understand consent and sexual harassment.

"In college, we were never taught how to discern whether certain behavior was inappropriate or constituted sexual harassment," Yu said. "These topics were only addressed in a superficial way, and we weren't made aware of our rights."

Wei's case is one of several related to sexual harassment on university campuses that have emerged in recent months. While reports of sexual misconduct face heavy censorship in China, petitions and stories continue to surface online. In response, the Education Ministry has said it will establish a mechanism for addressing sexual harassment.

Students at Peking University this week rallied around a student who said she was being threatened by university officials after requesting that the school disclose more information about a decades-old alleged rape case.

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Associated Press researcher Shanshan Wang contributed to this report.

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