Confusion spread in Asia last week after China’s top news agency erroneously reported that Harvard University plans to open a branch school in collaboration with the Sha’anxi International Trade College in central China.
The story, first reported last Monday by the Xinhua news agency, said the University will commit $100 million towards building the school, to be located in Xi’an, capital of China’s Sha’anxi province.
The news brief was quickly circulated online and in Asian newspapers by the end of the week, reaching news agencies as far as Malaysia.
However, Rick Calixto, director of the Harvard Trademark Program, said such a collaborative move was not slated to occur, and that most of Harvard’s top administrators knew of no such plan.
“I’ve spoken with people within the University, and as far as anyone knows, it’s not true,” he said. “In any major deal like this, the Provost’s Office would know. It’s more than likely unauthorized.”
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William C. Kirby said he knew nothing of such a plan.
“I have no information on this whatsoever. [That part of China] is probably not where we would set up a first office,” he said.
Kirby added that “there are hundreds and hundreds of faculty around the University who have connections and projects in China,” and said, “I believe the University should plan what its role in China is going to be.”
Calixto said that he has already instructed Vivien Chan and Company, the Chinese trademark associates representing Harvard, to look into the matter.
“Once we get to the facts—that in fact, somebody is misusing the Harvard trademark—then we move forward,” he said.
The original Xinhua story said that an agreement was forged between an organization called the Harvard University Foundation and the Chinese college itself.
“Harvard University will provide teaching materials and equipment and will send teachers,” the story read. “‘The two universities will also begin a student exchange,’ said David Fulo Jen, Vice Board Chairman of Harvard University Foundation.”
Calls to the Beijing bureau of the Xinhua news agency traced the article to a particular reporter in the Sha’anxi news bureau. However, the specific reporter could not be reached, nor the existence of the Sha’anxi International Trade College confirmed.
According to Calixto, if the misrepresentation of Harvard’s name is confirmed, cease and desist letters will most likely be issued and Chinese authorities would be contacted.
“In many matters in China, the authorities—including the education department or the court system—have helped bring these matters to an end,” he said.
He added that many times, once such letters have been sent, the perpetrator will “just disappear.”
For the duped school, however, there is nothing to be done, he said.
“We will inform the school, we will apologize to the school—but there is not much that we can do,” Calixto said.
Calixto added that the unauthorized use of the Harvard name in Asia is a common occurrence.
“On any given week, I have one or two cases,” he said.
In India, misuse of the Harvard name has been documented by the Harvard Trademark Office 150 times in the past two years.
Staff writer Risheng Xu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.