Speculation over change in top university’s leadership

Wang Enge, president of Peking University, China’s top higher education institution, has stepped down after less than two years in a move that has generated much speculation because it is thought to be among the shortest tenures for this post.

The appointment is important politically as it carries vice-ministerial rank, and changes in the university’s leadership attract a great deal of comment and attention. This is particularly so at present because Wang’s resignation occurred during a major government crackdown on corrupt officials and amid a flurry of Communist Party directives to ensure that universities promote the party’s ideology.

Wang’s predecessor as university president, Zhou Qifeng, served about four years. But the latest leadership change is the third in the past seven years at a university that often has close links to the leadership in the capital – some academics say too close.

Incoming president Lin Jianhua, who officially took over on 15 February, said Peking University had never been simply a university, “but a totem in people’s minds”.

Zhang Zanning, a law school professor at Jiangsu’s Southeast University, told local TV: “The appointment of university leaders is always closely related to the ideology of senior officials or to power struggles.”

Another academic at the university, who declined to be named, said: “This frequency of change at the top of Peking University is unusual. It shows how closely linked the university is to the power struggles within the party.”

Another academic told University World News on condition of anonymity, that the swift changes, which had taken even the university’s faculty by surprise, were not transparent or carried out according to “proper standards and rules”.


Wang’s replacement, Lin, who has been vice-president of Peking University in the past, was president of Zhejiang University on China’s east coast. He left Zhejiang after just three years, which is also considered an unusually short tenure.

Before that, in 2010-13, he was president of Chongqing University. Analysts pointed out he had held three different university leadership posts in five years.

China’s micro-blogging site Sina Weibo was this week buzzing with speculation regarding Wang’s departure and Lin’s “elevation”. His appointment to the Zhejiang post, which had been vacant for several months before he took it up, was controversial, according to official media.

An open letter, signed by 53 of Zhejiang’s alumni at the time when Li was being considered for president, protested that he had been “mediocre” in his previous role. Lin had also been criticised for spending “too much on recruiting foreign professors”.

Corruption investigations

Meanwhile, corruption investigations have netted a number of top university officials. A former professor at Zhejiang, Chen Yingxu, was sentenced to 10 years in jail in January for embezzling more than CNY9 million (US$1.4 million) of research funds using fabricated receipts and contracts, according to official media.

In the ongoing anti-corruption campaign, major leadership gaps have opened. At the same time, many potential candidates have links to officials who are under suspicion and this has led to a shunting around of trusted leaders, one source said.

Several leading Chinese universities have seen their presidents changed or relocated recently. Tsinghua University President Chen Jining was appointed Minister of Environmental Protection in late January, and a successor has so far not been announced. Chen was president for only three years before being appointed to the ministry post.