The Affair of Yale and Rural China

Ian Oxnevad

CounterCurrent: Week of 03/11/2024


CounterCurrent: China Edition is a monthly newsletter of the National Association of Scholars uncovering and highlighting the effects of the Chinese Communist Party's influence on American education.

Last year, a survey conducted by Gallup noted that only 36 percent of Americans had confidence in higher education. There are diverse reasons for this distrust, but the findings by Gallup are echoed by Rasmussen’s recent findings that America’s Ivy League-educated elite are not only out of touch with everyday Americans, but are actively hostile toward them. Yale University’s approach to “rural China” and “rural America” not only confirm these findings, but illustrate how this disregard for Americans among education’s elite differs from the elite’s commitment to developing China.

Last April, Yale University announced its entry into partnership with the Small-Town And Rural Students College Network (STARS) to help students from rural America access higher education. Jeremiah Quinlan, Yale’s dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid, stated that he hoped the STARS initiative would “help bridge the growing rural-urban divide in America.” Along with the “STARS Summer Scholars” program, five high school students from rural communities were stated to receive full paid tuition to attend the “Yale Young Global Scholars Program.” Yale’s Global Scholars program brings students from over 150 countries for a two-week session at the university in order to be a part of a “global learning community.”

Yale is not only divorced from rural America, but is politically homogeneous and economically segregated from its surrounding community. A report from the Yale Daily News this January noted that 98.4 percent of donations from Yale professors went exclusively to Democrats.

According to the job search site, Indeed.com, the average annual salary for a Yale professor is $178,953 and ranks 82 percent above the national average. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income for New Haven, Yale’s surrounding community, is only $54,305. That’s right, a single average Yale professor earns three times what the average household does in the surrounding community.

Yale’s interest in bridging divides in America is laudable, but awkward given these statistics. This awkwardness is amplified by the university’s avid commitment to developing China’s Hunan province, and its cooperation with Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology. The Yale-China program works in China’s Hunan Province to assist in providing medical education and “address some of the greatest needs in education and healthcare inequity.” The program notes that its host city of Changsha is Mao Zedong’s hometown and “part of China’s progress into the future.”

The Yale-China program offers a number of fellowships to assist in training Chinese medical professionals at Yale, and in bringing medical training to rural Chinese citizens within China. The program notes that its health initiatives reinforce China’s efforts to “alleviate poverty through health,” and assist China in combating mental illness, hypertension, and diabetes. By most accounts, poverty rates in China are falling. At the same time, poverty rates in Yale’s New Haven abode stand at 25 percent, with 41 percent of children in the city living below the poverty line. In terms of health, preventable health conditions were found to contribute to the deaths of 14,000 black New Haven residents from 2017-2022. While Yale is working to train medical professionals and develop China, the university could be improving the lives of Americans closer to home.

Perhaps the disconnect between Yale’s commitment to Hunan Province and its interest in rural America and New Haven is explained by the money the university receives from China. In 2020, the Department of Education noted that Yale failed to disclose $375 million in foreign donations, including from companies such as Huawei Technologies and ZTE. In comparison, the STARS network that Yale joined to support rural America as a whole is supported by a paltry $20 million.

Yale’s work with Chinese partners is alarming for national security reasons. Both Huawei and ZTE were placed on sanctions lists due to national security concerns in 2019. Yale currently has dual degree programs with a number of Chinese universities, including Tsinghua University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Peking University, and Zheijang University. According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, each of Yale’s Chinese partners universities listed here are ranked as high or very high risk their ties to China’s military.

In 2021, roughly 100 Yale professors protested efforts from the U.S. government to find spies and reduce national security risks stemming from higher education. Yale professors penned a letter of condemnation to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to voice their displeasure over the government’s China Initiative, and attempts to safeguard sensitive technologies from long-reach of China’s theft operations. With the disparity in money that Yale receives from rural America and New Haven in comparison to what it gets from China, it is no wonder that Yale was upset.

In the 2024 election year, sociopolitical and economic divides are even more apparent than usual in an already hyper-polarized America. A look at higher education’s insularity highlights many of the reasons for why and how America got to this point. Yale's tepid outreach to rural America fails to compare to its investment in China. Its efforts to combat poverty in rural China may be better spent combating poverty in New Haven. Of course, China’s ability to contribute to Yale far outpaces the ability of New Haven or rural America to collectively buy the university’s favor. If polls that show decreasing trust in academia are any indication, Yale still has a lot of outreach to do at home.


Photo by rodphotography on Adobe Stock

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