At a ceremony on campus to formalize a new joint partnership with a leading Chinese university yesterday, University officials strongly reaffirmed their support for international collaboration.

The signing ceremony was meant to be an opportunity for representatives from the University of Michigan Health System and Peking University Health Science Center to formally sign an agreement to establish a $14-million partnership to focus on cardiac, liver and pulmonary diseases. However, throughout the event, officials from the University focused on the importance of partnerships with Chinese institutions.

The defense of the University’s Chinese partnerships came while a small group of critics who oppose the University’s involvement with China sat among the audience. And while the critics — including some who have spoken publicly before the University’s Board of Regents about their concerns in regards to the University giving too much attention and preference to China while issues confront the University at home — didn’t publicly protest during the event, University organizers read a statement at the start of the ceremony to warn against interrupting the event.

Speaking at the event, Ora Pescovitz, the University’s executive vice president for medical affairs, emphasized the importance of partnering with Peking University Health Science Center.

“This partnership provides us with a unique opportunity to establish collaborative research efforts, to cultivate exchanges of faculty, medical residents, fellows and other researchers, and to complete large scale clinical trials and other kinds of research — all in the pursuit of discovering new ways to prevent, treat and cure pulmonary, cardiac and liver diseases,” Pescovitz said.

However, her comments quickly shifted to defending the University Medical School’s broader ties to Chinese universities.

“If we want to fulfill the University of Michigan Medical School’s vision of creating the future of medicine — if we want to become a leader in global medicine — we must deepen our understanding of disease and its impact, not only on individuals and communities, but on nations worldwide,” Pescovitz said. “And to do that successfully, we must invite global perspectives, we must invite global ideas into our laboratories and into our offices.”

Pescovitz told the members of the audience gathered in the Biomedical Science Research Building auditorium that not only will collaboration help advance the work of UMHS in the future, but it has already helped position UMHS as a world-class system.

“I cannot think of one thing that we do or one success that we have had as a University or as a health system that doesn’t require teamwork or collaboration,” Pescovitz said.

She went on to say that expanding University collaborations to Chinese universities is a logical step because of deep partnerships already in place with institutions in the country.

“What better place to start with than in China?” Pescovitz said. “After all, China is a country with which we already have a long-standing and successful series of relationships.”

Pescovitz went on to detail the statistics of the University Medical School’s partnerships in China.

“To date our medical school has 19 departments that already are engaged in active collaborations with 31 different Chinese universities,” she said, adding that the Medical School has co-authored more articles with Chinese researchers than with researchers in any other country.

“This rich history and strong foundation make China a natural choice for the next generation of collaborative discovery, and we feel so extraordinarily fortunate to have found the perfect partner in Peking University Health Science Center,” Pescovitz said.

However, not all in attendance were as supportive of the University’s relationships with Chinese universities.

Though no demonstrations were made during the event, some who have advocated for a more limited relationship with Chinese institutions were in attendance and stayed after the event as officials stood for photographs.

Pre-empting any sort of scene that protestors may have otherwise made, a UMHS communications employee read a statement on freedom of speech at the beginning of the event.

“The University of Michigan strives to create a truly open forum, one in which diverse opinions can be expressed and heard,” the employee told the audience. “Protestors must not interfere unduly with communication between the speaker or artist and members of the audience.”

She continued: “If the host of this event or a University representative believe a protestor is interfering unduly with the speaker or performer’s freedom of expression, those protestors will be warned. If the warnings are not heeded and the interference continues, then the individuals responsible may be removed from the building.”

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