The Committee of 100 held its annual conference in San Francisco April 7-10, 2010 and I was lucky enough to score a guest pass from Jennifer 8 Lee.
The theme this year is “Envisioning Our Future Together.”
Today I attended a fascinating panel, “Educating the Next Generation of Global Leaders,” featuring a rock star roster of academic administrators from California and China: Henry Yang, Chancellor, University of California, Santa Barbara; Zhou Qifeng, President, Peking University; Gu Binglin, President, Tsinghua University; John L. Hennessy, President, Stanford University; and Marye Anne Fox, Chancellor, University of California, San Diego.
(I thought it was interesting that every single administrator came from a science and/or engineering background, no humanities people at all. Ah, well.)
I also thought it was interesting that both President Zhou of Peking University (a.k.a. Bei Da, 北大) and President Gu of Tsinghua ( 清華大學) delivered their speeches in fluent English. I wonder how many American university presidents could deliver their speeches in Chinese (or any non-English language)? It certainly spoke of the importance China places on internationalizing its education system, especially in its elite universities.
(Note: Perhaps if American universities wanted to place more emphasis on Modern Languages, Comparative Literature, Translation and other departments that are currently facing terrible budget cuts, maybe the “next generation of (American) global leaders” will be able to communicate in other languages, too. But as a humanities major, I am obviously biased on these matters.)
Each of the university administrators was asked to speak briefly (5-7 minutes) on what universities must do to prepare their students to become the aforementioned “global leaders” in the 21st century.
President Zhou of Peking University emphasized the need for students to be first and foremost good, global citizens. He emphasized Peking University’s efforts to increase study abroad programs, to bring in more international students, and to develop its new Yuan Pei program for undergrads, which is essentially a liberal arts type study program that is co-run with Yale University. He says students must be “international,” meaning they must understand the cultures of the world, so that in the future “our students will not be limited by borders.”
He received a rousing hand of applause.
(BTW, Peking University currently sends 1,000 students on study abroad programs every year. There are 33,000 students total, including 14,000 undergraduates. There are 4,000 international students; 2,700 are degree students enrolled at Bei Da, not just on study abroad programs.)
President Gu emphasized the historical, international roots of Tsinghua University, China’s equivalent of M.I.T. It was founded in 1911 with Boxer Indemnity Fund money and many of its students went on to study in the United States. (Historical note: Click on these links for more info on the Boxer Rebellion and the Boxer Indemnity Fund Scholarships to educate Chinese students in the U.S. )
(Personal note: My grandfather went to Tsinghua in the 1920s and then as a Boxer Indemnity Fund scholar was allowed to come to the U.S. to attend Stanford University, where he obtained his B.A. He then went on to study law at Northwestern University’s Law School, where he received his J.D.)
President Gu felt the most important factors in education today are to teach students to have 1) a capacity to innovate; 2) a global vision; and 3) social commitment.
President Hennessy of Stanford emphasized five points in his speech. 1) Critical thinking skills; 2) a global perspective; 3) a multi-disciplinary perspective; 4) a need to appreciate two things: arts & culture as “the arts are a bridge among cultures,” and an appreciation and understanding of science and technology; and 5) boldness, the ability to think outside the box, and to make a big difference in the world.
Chancellor Fox emphasized the importance of funding the public research university, noting that research leads to discovery, which is essential for all societies to survive and flourish. Echoing many of the themes of the other speakers, Chancellor Fox said the three pillars of the university were 1) an interdisciplinary approach; 2) internationalization; and 3) innovation.
Chancellor Yang fielded some questions from the audience, including, What can Chinese and the U.S. universities learn from each other? How can more women be encouraged to enter the sciences? Why aren’t there more Asian and Asian American administrators in the U.S.?
There were no simple answers to any of these questions, so I’m going to leave them as questions. Anyone reading this post can think of possible solutions and answers.
I was very honored to be able to attend this event, which raises so many interesting questions for all of us who are interested in global education. I also found the cultural interaction between the Chinese and American administrators heartening. If we can talk reasonably and intelligently about our common goals and our common needs as global citizens, then there really is hope for the future.
After the panel, I went for a walk in the beautiful Yerba Buena Gardens and stopped by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and Waterfall where quotations from Dr. King are engraved in the stone walls.
I fond this quotation particularly moving, which Dr. King delivered in San Francisco in 1956:
“I believe that the day will come when all God’s children from bass black to treble white will be significant on the Constitution’s keyboard.”
On days like today, although I know that we are far from this ideal, both at home and in the world, I do have renewed hope for the future.
For more information, here’s the link about the Committee of 100 (actually there are more like 150 people who belong to this group to promote better US-Greater China ties and to help Chinese Americans participate more fully in all aspects of American life, as their mission statement says).
For more information, here’s a link about the ever generous Jennifer 8. Lee, www.jennifer8lee.com/bio. She used to be a reporter for the New York Times. She’s also the author of the best-selling book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.
And of course, here’s the link for more information on the Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco.