December 20, 2023
BEIJING – The debate on whether to reopen university campuses to the public has resurfaced after a teacher of Peking University criticized the authorities concerned for making him “hurdle” over the checkpoint at the entry gate to the campus.
Li Zhi, an associate professor of the university’s department of mechanics and engineering science, said in a post at knowledge-sharing platform Zhihu that he was chased by a PKU security guard after he vaulted over the checkpoint to dodge a facial recognition device, because he did not want the university to have access to his biometric data.
Noting that people had free and unhindered access to the PKU campus before 2008, Li said the facial recognition devices cause great inconveniences for both teachers and students, and should be removed.
Li’s post has reignited the debate on whether public universities should fully reopen their campuses.
Several reputable academic institutions, such as PKU, Tsinghua University and Wuhan University, have already partially reopened their campuses, after closing them due to COVID-19, allowing the public to now book tickets for entry. Up to 4,000 people are allowed to visit Tsinghua University each day.
Meanwhile, in many other places in China, universities have fully reopened their campuses to the public.
Supporters of Li said the public should have access to universities and get exposure to the learning environment, while others believe allowing people unhindered access will raise campus management issues, particularly for popular universities.
Online opinion polls showed that most people favor full reopening of university campuses, because these are considered public assets.
Opening campuses fully should be the responsibility and obligation of universities. COVID-19 should no longer be an excuse to keep people away, said a user on social networking platform Sina Weibo.
Zou Yunpeng, a third-year undergraduate student at Central South University in Changsha, said that reopening campuses would make daily commuting easier for students.
“We are bothered by salesmen after our campus offers free and unhindered access, but at least I don’t have to worry about not being able to enter the campus just because I am wearing a new pair of glasses,” he said.
“A true university is one without walls, and there are better ways to safeguard the safety of students than closing the gates,” Zou added.
However, Chen Zhiwen, editor-in-chief of online education portal EOL, said he is opposed to the idea of fully reopening university campuses to the public.
Universities are hallowed grounds for Chinese students as the country attaches great importance to education, and this is why reputable universities, such as PKU and Tsinghua, allow the public restricted access to their campuses, Chen said.
If there were no restrictions imposed, the sheer number of visitors would be overwhelming, which would disturb the normal functioning of the universities, he added.
Amid the heated debate, some experts suggest smart management.
Xiong Bingqi, director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said there should not be a uniform rule on reopening university campuses to the public.
If the universities are in crowded downtown areas, certain restrictions should be imposed to ensure better visitor management on the campuses, and if they are in the suburbs and have large open spaces, the public can be given free access to the universities’ resources, Xiong said.