American Schools and Foreign Partnerships

The New York Times recently ran an article talking about cultural divides when American colleges and universities enter into partnerships with Asian academic institutions. But how much should one country's ideals remain in another's halfway around the world?

One mark of success of American colleges and universities is their having enough money to expand—within campus, setting up multiple campuses, and even venturing into other countries. It shows that the school is strong enough that students want to attend, and that the university is responding to demand by making their services more accessible.

But recently, the United States was forced with a tough reality: their values and beliefs are not the same as in other countries, particularly in China. When Wellesley College professor Xia Yeliang, a noted Beijing critic, went to Peking University to sign a partnership with his home school, it marked the start of a tense scenario. A total of 130 Wellesley faculty sent an open letter to Peking University's president saying they'd reconsider the partnership if Xia were fired.

Xia was fired.

Peking University cited his teaching as the reason—not his politics—but it was too late. Despite this, Wellesley faculty—many of them in doubt—voted to keep the partnership.

What happened was a clashing of ideals as the West butted up against the East, surprised to find two different belief systems and acting reactively, not proactively. The Chinese are an inherently traditional people, holding fast to their history and culture and promoting it all costs. Conversely, Americans look to the future, ready to discard history in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. It's not to say that the Chinese are old-fashioned and reject anything modern, or that Americans have short-term memories with both feet facing forward, but that each country has its own way of looking at ideals.

Wellesley faculty member Susan Reverby summed up matters well when she said, "globalisation raises all kinds of issues that didn't come up when it was just kids spending junior year in France. … Does a partnership with another university make their faculty our colleagues, obliging us to stand up for them?"

No matter how the issue moves forward, one thing is clear: bending on both sides is needed as each realizes the other has their own way of living. No one country appreciates another muscling in and imposing their will, especially when it's a visiting country.

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