Students who accompanied 'detained' UNL professor to return to U.S.

2012-06-19T20:00:00Z 2012-06-26T14:08:35Z Students who accompanied 'detained' UNL professor to return to U.S.By FAIZ SIDDIQUI / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials continued to search Tuesday for an assistant professor they believe has been detained in China. Meanwhile, 10 students who accompanied the instructor on a study abroad trip that began in May have decided to return home.

Kelly Bartling, spokeswoman for the university, said the students made the decision independently after university officials informed them of the situation surrounding Weixing Li, the faculty chaperone whose whereabouts have been unknown since early June.

Family members of Li who live in the United States expressed concern recently, informing university officials that they’d learned he had been detained for an undisclosed reason, but that they didn’t know where. Li is a citizen of China, so local authorities are not required to inform U.S. officials of his location or status.

Students grew wary when Li stopped returning their emails.

Eleven of the 18 students who accompanied Li on the trip remained in China after it ended to complete internships and outside work, independent of UNL, but Bartling said 10 of those students -- the 11th lives in China -- have chosen to return to the United States. The university has agreed to pay for additional airfare costs.

Bartling said Tuesday that the students’ safety was never jeopardized, but that the university thought it necessary to respond to their concerns.

“We did hear from students that they were concerned,” she said. “They were concerned about his whereabouts.”

Originally scheduled to return by July 2, the 10 graduate and upper-level graduate students have made arrangements with the various business firms employing them in China that will allow them to finish their internships early.

In what Bartling said was the most significant disruption of UNL study abroad travel since a cloud of volcanic ash descended over Iceland in 2010, grounding flights across Europe, all 10 will return to the United States in the coming days.

Bartling said Tuesday that university officials still hadn’t confirmed whether Li, a College of Business Administration instructor and Ph.D recipient, had been detained, but that information obtained from his family was all they had to work with.

“We don’t have any reason to not believe that,” she said. “We need to go with the information that we have. Obviously, we’re still trying to confirm or verify what has occurred.”

But little progress had been made by Tuesday afternoon, days after Michael Dubray, a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, said obtaining information through Chinese authorities in a case like this -- where U.S. authorities are seeking out information on a non-American citizen -- was “impossible.”

“We haven’t made any headway,” Bartling said. “I wish I had more to tell you, I wish we had good news to tell you and hopefully -- momentarily -- we’ll be able to give everyone some good news.”

Reach Faiz Siddiqui at 402-473-7306 or fsiddiqui@journalstar.com.

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