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Cecilia Chang Charged: Students Used as Slaves?

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on October 01, 2010 2:28 PM

Anyone who has been to college must have at sometime complained about the hard work. Between studying, and working at a low-paying internship or temp job, it can feel like indentured servitude. However, the hard work behind the criminal charges levied against one college administrator brings a whole new meaning to the term. Former St. John's College Dean of the Institute of Asian Studies and vice president for international relations, Cecilia Chang, is facing federal charges of forced labor. In addition, there are the embezzlement charges, which is how her labor violations were first discovered.

Chang oversaw the scholarship program for Asian students at St. John's, according to CBS News. Under the scholarship program, the students agreed to work part time for the Asian Studies program. As CBS notes, it appears Chang took that more than a little too far. The students who worked for Chang allege that they took out the garbage, cleaned house, did laundry, shoveled snow, and drove Chang to the airport and to get her hair done, among other chores. All this was allegedly done under the threat that they would lose their scholarship money if they didn't follow the 'boss's' orders.

Interestingly enough, most news reports say that the forced labor charges Chang is now facing would not have been discovered if it were not for the investigation over her embezzlement charges, which sent authorities searching into her professional and financial doings. Chang is alleged to have embezzled about $1 million, including a $250,000 donation from a Saudi prince's foundation.

The charge of forced labor sounds antiquated, but it is a real issue not only in other countries, but in the U.S. Even though often tied in with issues of child labor and human trafficking, the more banal version like that taking place a St. John's college still violates the law. United State Code § 1589 defines forced labor (in part) as, "Whoever knowingly provides or obtains the labor or services of a person - (1) by threats of serious harm to, or physical restraint against, that person or another person..." Threats of scholarship loss to a poor student in a foreign country can certainly fall under this definition.

CBS reports a bail hearing will be held sometime today, October 1, in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. Cecilia Chang faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the federal charges.

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