Ni Hao Stanford!

The first Faculty Senate meeting of the quarter was a big one with discussions of Stanford’s presence at Peking University, plans to prevent losses and damage in an earthquake, and innovations in teaching through very interesting uses of technology.

Stanford University is already in China, the Bing Overseas Program hosts undergrads at the Peking University (PKU), but things are about to change.   Much like the proposed NYC research-based campus, Stanford is looking to open a more autonomous facility on the PKU campus.  Unlike the Bing Overseas Studies program, the new center is actually being built for the sole purpose of accommodating Stanford faculty and graduate student research, along with meetings, receptions, and (probably) undergraduate courses.

In true Stanford fashion a new 30,000 square foot facility will be built on the north side of the PKU campus for purely Stanford purposes.  It will be the only American university on the campus with such privileges, not to mention a building with two subterranean levels for lab space, offices, and classrooms, seminar rooms, meeting rooms, a private courtyard and atrium.  Bottom line, the place is going to look swanky.

But what is the utility of such an undertaking?  It was argued that for those with projects involving China this will cut out the middle man, emails, skype meetings, translators; in essence it will put scholars nearer to what they are studying.  But it was unclear how long faculty members will be staying, could entire research projects, which last years, be housed at PKU or is it a more provisional space?

In addition, what will interactions be between faculty and students from the different universities?  The seclusion of a building set aside only for Stanford may lend itself to alienation rather than inclusion – although it was stressed that undergraduates would still be housed in the PKU dorms.  The bilingual staff will help with communication, but it is still unclear to what extent the universities are actually working together.  Will projects span the US and Chinse faculty?  Is this an extension of the Bing Overseas Program, a variation upon it, or something completely new?  Finally, apart from vague “research opportunities” what will be gained by these institutions?  All seven of Stanford’s schools are said to be welcome to this facility, thus making its overall purpose rather ambiguous or ill-defined.

Finally, an important question was raised: how will the Chinese government affect the lives and work of Stanford faculty and students at PKU?  Will the internet be censored?  Will dissident opinions be silenced?  Satisfactory answers were not provided, but it is certainly something to keep in mind.

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