Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese human-rights activist who had a public fight with New York University this past summer that raised questions about the influence of China on American higher education, has found a new home in academe. Mr. Chen will be a visiting fellow here at Catholic University of America, and will also be affiliated with a conservative think tank and a human-rights group started by a Democratic congressman.
"Mr. Chen's commitment to protecting the rights of the poor and vulnerable resonates with our mission at the Catholic University of America," John H. Garvey, the institution's president, said on Wednesday during an event announcing Mr. Chen's new roles. He said the blind activist, who has advocated on behalf of women in China who had suffered forced abortions, would deepen the university's study of international issues and serve as a role model to students.
Mr. Chen, a self-taught lawyer, will be based at Catholic's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, which he will use as a platform to continue his advocacy and write a book about his struggles in China, said Stephen F. Schneck, director of the institute. He will not teach classes but will give occasional guest lectures on legal issues in China and international human rights. The position will last three years.
In addition, Mr. Chen will be a senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, a think tank in Princeton, N.J., and be an adviser to the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, in Concord. N.H., which was established by the late Rep. Thomas Lantos.
The moves are the latest steps in a dramatic journey for Mr. Chen that has also raised critical questions about American higher education's ties with China.
'Intimidated by the Powerful'
Mr. Chen triggered a diplomatic standoff between the United States and China in 2012, when he fled from house arrest and escaped to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Chinese officials allowed him to leave the country after NYU offered him a position at its law school.
But that relationship frayed. In June, Mr. Chen said the university had prematurely ended his fellowship due to pressure from China, where NYU is building a campus. He also said that "the work of the Chinese Communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine, and some scholars have no option but to hold themselves back. Academic independence and academic freedom in the United States are being greatly threatened by a totalitarian regime."
NYU strongly denied the charges, saying that his position was always intended to be temporary.
On Wednesday, Mr. Chen was more restrained toward his former host. He thanked NYU and Jerome A. Cohen, a law professor there, for helping him make the transition to the United States. When asked about his accusations of a growing Chinese influence on the university and on American higher education more broadly, he declined to elaborate.
"As for the facts, I hope I've already made them very clear in my statements," he said through an interpreter. "The threat posed by the Chinese Communist authorities to the free world is very clear, and that threat is not only posed to academia but also other parts of society."
He did predict that the Chinese Communist Party would continue to try to interfere with his efforts, and he praised Catholic University and the other two groups for not being "intimidated by the powerful."
When asked about news-media reports that antiabortion groups and supporters of more liberal causes, which in some articles included NYU, had sought to influence him, Mr. Chen denied that he had identified himself with any one side.
"Human rights supersedes partisan politics," he said.
Mr. Garvey, of Catholic University, also rejected the view: "The institutions that are supporting him now, like the university that supported him before, don't easily fit into some easy description like that."