Ex-Olympian joins faculty amid controversy

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 File photo of Deng Yaping.

The appointment of former Olympic table tennis champion Deng Yaping as an adjunct professor at China University of Political Science and Law was confirmed on Sunday, amid controversy over the way her appointment was made and her academic qualifications for the job.

Deng became a sports legend in China after winning four Olympic gold medals-in 1992 and 1996. She recently found herself in the spotlight again when the university said it would appoint her as an adjunct professor in the department of physical education to help build the varsity table tennis program.

Some questioned the procedural legality of the move as well as Deng's competency for an academic role.

The university posted a statement on its micro blog on Sunday, backing its original decision published on Dec 2. The appointment was first proposed by the physical education department before it was approved by the human resources department. The school's statement on Sunday said proper procedures for faculty appointments were followed.

"The appointment of Deng was based on the need to support the high-level table tennis varsity team's development, as well as to forge a vibrant sports culture at the university," the statement said.

However, the statement didn't answer specific questions raised by some students and faculty members about how Deng was evaluated and what her academic duties will be.

Xu Heng, an undergraduate in the civil, commercial and economic law school, sent a letter to Party chief Shi Yajun asking for disclosure of the decision-making process. An academic board should have been convened publicly to vote on the appointment according to conventions, Xu said.

Although she holds a PhD in land economy from the University of Cambridge for research on the Olympic Games' influence on social development in China and served as a member of the organizing committee for the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics, Deng's academic competence as a professor was still questioned.

Fang Liufang, a professor of law at the university, joined the debate on Sunday, saying that Deng's previous academic research and her specialty in athletic training were not enough to qualify her for the new role.

Neither Deng nor university officials responded on Sunday.

Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of 21st Century Education Research Institute, an NGO concerned with educational policy, told news website thepaper.cn on Sunday that it is normal for a university to appoint an adjunct professor, especially celebrities, on a part-time basis, even with relatively low academic credentials, if the person has specialized experience.

Every university has its own rules, standards and systems for faculty appointments, and accepting celebrities as faculty members has been a common way to promote a program, Xiong said.

Deng, now 42, claimed the women's singles and doubles gold medals back to back at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games and also won 18 world championship titles. She retired in 1997 and has played various high-profile roles in her post-athletic career.

After serving on the International Olympic Committee's ethics commission in the early 2000s, Deng joined the Beijing 2008 Olympic Organizing Committee as an executive. She was then appointed as deputy secretary of the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Communist Youth League of China in 2009. One year later, she was appointed deputy secretary-general of People's Daily, her current position.

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