American humorist Mark Twain once commented, “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” after an erroneous obituary had been published. Cornell University Law School professor John Barcelo can now say the same thing following Republic of China in-exile President Tsai Ing-wen’s declaration at a campaign rally that her academic mentor was dead.
Contrary to Tsai’s claim of his demise, Barcelo remains active promoting Cornell’s international law programs, regularly lecturing, publishing, and traveling. Tsai included Barcelo in the Acknowledgment page of her 1984 London School of Economics graduate thesis. Tsai thanked Barcelo for the “feedback” he provided. However, Barcelo was busy at Cornell at the time and his resume does not list him as a visiting professor at LSE. Tsai did know Barcelo from her days at Cornell which suggests her thesis may have been an outgrowth of student work there.
Tsai has apparently not stayed in touch with Barcelo or she would know he is very much alive and not dead as she told her supporters at a campaign rally in Taiwan. Tsai was speaking of the controversy surrounding her thesis “Unfair Trade Practices and Safeguard Actions” following its 35-year tardy submission to the LSE Library. A video recording of the rally captured Tsai’s remarks about Barcelo’s death.
Tsai’s office has dismissed the error as a “slip of the tongue” although the context seems as though Tsai really believed Barcelo was dead. Tsai said that when she first arrived at Cornell the head of the law school asked for her views on Taiwan and China. Tsai responded that the government wanted unification. “The professor then said, No! China must first have democracy. This professor was very famous. Since he is dead now I can talk about him. His name is Barcelo, like Barcelona of Spain. If you read my Ph.D. thesis [interrupted by laughter] at the end, you find the famous theories by Barcelo on antidumping.”
Tsai might want to reconnect with her old teacher and bring him to Taiwan for advice. Barcelo traveled in 2011 to the People’s Republic of China where he gave two lectures and was very warmly received. In the years since Tsai got feedback from Barcelo he has grown the Cornell Law School international law program with links to universities in Europe and has been recognized in France for his work there.
Tsai lifted her copyright restriction and placed the thesis online in Taiwan in an effort to quell the controversy. Although Tsai enjoys front-runner status in the presidential election campaign, the questions surrounding her long missing thesis have rocked the boat and Tsai obviously wants smooth sailing. It is too early to tell if releasing the thesis to the public will calm the waters. The Barcelo gaffe could be a signal that Tsai is off course.
This article has been corrected to improve the accuracy of Tsai Ing-wen’s quotation.