Robert Tuck, assistant professor of Japanese at the University of Montana, said he hopes Chinese authorities quickly release UM student Guthrie McLean.
"I'm deeply distressed to hear about this business in Zhengzhou," Tuck said Tuesday. "It's horrifying for everybody, and I really hope that he can be returned to his family as soon as possible in good health."
UM senior McLean was apprehended this week in China while on personal travel, said his mother, Jennifer McLean, in an email. Jennifer McLean, who teaches in the Henan province, said her son has not been charged and police are demanding money for his release.
She said the "shakedown" follows an altercation last month between the McLeans and a cab driver (see related story).
Tuck, in modern and classical language and literature, said Guthrie McLean works in the department, so the instructor saw the student daily. He said McLean is an East Asian studies major and has a passion for that region and thinks about issues such as the relations between the United States and China.
"He's hard working," Tuck said. "He's holding down a work-study job and also taking on a full load of courses."
UM legal counsel Lucy France said the student was abroad on personal travel, not a trip sanctioned by UM, so her office's involvement is limited. She said the legal office does not provide services in such cases, but it identifies those that are available.
France also said UM helps "connect the dots" and ensures that appropriate authorities such as the U.S. Department of State are notified. The UM legal office has not dealt with a student detained abroad since at least February 2013, when she started there.
In an email provided by Jennifer McLean, UM faculty member Zhen Cao also expressed distress at the situation.
"(I'm) very sorry and truly disturbed to hear of Guthrie's case," Cao said in a note to Jennifer. " ... Please trust we will do whatever we can to offer assistance."
A State Department spokesperson said the agency would not comment on the situation due to privacy concerns.