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Ousted professor, embroiled in conspiracy to return

SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

After two suspensions following investigations of theft and harassment — not to mention tales of espionage — Dajin Peng is returning to USF after his unpaid five-year suspension ends in August. 

Originally suspended in 2011, Peng caused tension between USF and its academic ties with China. Peng’s reinstatement comes at a time when USF is increasingly trying to form relationships with international universities.

Peng started teaching at USF in 1994 as an instructor for the Department of Government and International Affairs. By 2002, he was promoted to associate professor. By 2008, he became the director of the USF Confucius Institute.

The Confucius Institute, a program subsidized by the People’s Republic of China, focuses on increasing U.S. ties with the Chinese mainland through academic exchange and teaching of the language.

On the outside, it seemed Peng was an effective leader. Some administrators and students reportedly praised his leadership and teaching ability. 

However, doubts grew around 2009 as Confucius Institute employees began accusing Peng of sexual harassment, misspending university money and exploitation of employees. 

The university investigated the claims and, in a 187-page report, determined Peng had been guilty of misconduct. 

The report stated Peng spent nearly $16,000 on travel and entertainment unrelated to university business. Peng took multiple trips to China, as well as a vacation to California. 

The investigators also discovered Peng had falsified official letters of invitations to Chinese nationals, which qualified as “fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents.”

It was also found Peng failed to compensate employees for time worked. 

While no claims of sexual harassment were proven, investigators found “vile, disturbing” images on Peng’s university computer that included an image of a woman in bondage. According to an interview with Bloomberg, in his defense, Peng said bondage is vital to understanding Japanese culture.

In 2010, Peng was suspended for one year and settled to repay the university $10,000.

During Peng’s suspension, Nankai University in China reportedly received letters supporting Peng. Nankai University was the partner of the USF Confucius Institute. 

According to USF findings, Peng had misused funds to visit Nankai. Peng also once reportedly bought Disney tickets for guests visiting Florida from Nankai.

In response to letters to Nankai supporting Peng, which were suspected as being written by Peng himself, Nankai ended its partnership with USF and the Confucius Institute.

USF Provost Ralph Wilcox blamed Peng for causing the end of the relationship and determined he had violated the terms of his suspension. Peng was suspended for an additional two years until August 2015. 

Then, in February of this year, Bloomberg published an article suggesting Peng had gotten caught up in the FBI. The article reported that, according to Peng, the FBI tried to coerce him to spy on China and Tampa’s Chinese community. 

Peng further stated the FBI set him up, according to Bloomberg. Peng said he suspected the FBI of encouraging USF to bring false allegations against him. In exchange for infiltration, Peng said the FBI would protect him against the accusations.

In 2012, Peng wrote a letter to USF President Judy Genshaft alleging a “plot of making (him) spy against China.”

“The FBI suspected, without any ground, that I am a Chinese spy,” Peng wrote. “It is a pity that USF, the university I have been working extremely hard for, was working with the FBI against me.”

Peng filed a grievance against USF and accused the university of punishing him for refusing to spy on China on behalf of the FBI, to no success. 

While waiting for his return to USF, Peng is teaching in China. According to Bloomberg, he has given up on scholarly pursuit because he doubts anyone would be willing to publish him.

According to a university spokesman, the university has not finalized what position Peng, a tenured professor, will assume when he returns.