LINCOLN - University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials are assisting five study-abroad students who asked to return early from China after their faculty chaperone disappeared.
Spokeswoman Kelly Bartling said UNL officials have been unable to confirm reports that the instructor, Weixing Li, has been detained for unknown reasons by Chinese authorities. Because Li is a Chinese citizen, the Chinese government has not reported his status or whereabouts to U.S. officials.
Li's family told UNL officials they learned he had been detained, Bartling said.
A nontenured faculty member who holds a Ph.D. in business administration and management, Li accompanied 18 graduate and upper-level undergraduate students to China in May. Seven of the students returned to the United States as planned in early June, after four weeks of classroom study and touring.
The remaining 11 students remained behind to participate in work internships at Chinese businesses. Except for a student who lives in China, they were due to return to the United States July 2.
Those students told UNL officials they last saw Li in early June.
UNL offered to assist students who wished to cut short their trip to return to the United States, including paying additional airfare costs. Five students so far have accepted the offer, Bartling said Monday.
Li has been on the UNL faculty since 2003. This year's trip marked at least the fourth time he had taken a group of UNL students to China for the program on international business and Chinese culture.
In recent years the University of Nebraska system has sought to strengthen its ties with Chinese universities and businesses. UNL has established degree exchange programs with Xi'an Jiaotong University and Zhejiang University City College.
In 2007 UNL opened a Confucius Institute, a joint effort with Xi'an Jiaotong University to promote and teach Chinese culture and language in Lincoln and Nebraska.
In April, NU officials helped open an American Exchange Center on the Xi'an Jiaotong University campus, to expose Chinese students to U.S. history and culture. And last week, the NU Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources opened a Beijing office.
"We have a really close and valued relationship with China and our Chinese students and this will not affect it," Bartling said.
Li taught his course, in English, at Zhejiang University City College in Hangzhou, China. The program included tours of Shanghai, Xi'an and Beijing, and visits to Walmart, Starbucks and McDonald's outlets in China. The students who participated in internships were to live in dormitories at a local university in Beijing.
UNL officials continue to seek more information about Li's whereabouts but at this point are mystified, Bartling said.
"We have no verification of what the family has told us, but we have no reason to disbelieve them," she said. "It's been impossible to get any official source to tell us where he is, why, since when or what happened."
Contact the writer: