Schapiro, personnel discuss higher education with Chinese leaders

The College may soon be climbing far to the rising star China – following a trip by President Schapiro and senior College personnel to explore potential opportunities for Williams in the region. The trip lasted from June 24 to July 4.

“I did an Asian trip a couple of years ago and it was time to return,” Schapiro said. “We had three goals: to visit alumni, to raise the profile of Williams and to meet with Chinese leaders about how Williams can more effectively engage this important region.”

Schapiro traveled with Paul Neely, trustee; Cornelius Kubler, chair of Asian studies; Jim Kolesar, assistant to the president for public affairs; and Enoch Blazis, senior development officer. Some of Schapiro’s family members also participated in the trip which spanned Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.

In addition to alumni gatherings and the formation of a new alumni association in Beijing, the group visited Chinese universities, including the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Fudan University in Shanghai and Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing. They also met with leaders in education, business and government, including Zheng Bijian, former executive vice president of the Central Party School, and Yin Yichui, deputy party secretary-general of Shanghai Municipal Committee.

Schapiro also gave a series of economics lectures and was interviewed by both English and Chinese-language publications and a high-profile talk show.

While no fresh partnerships developed, possibilities are myriad. “I was surprised by how willing Chinese leaders seemed to be to embrace the liberal arts. Many felt that they were reaching the limits of technical training and that the liberal arts were a critical next step,” Schapiro said, adding that it was too early to tell what role the College might play.

According to Kolesar, all the universities they spoke to “would be happy to have new or more contact with Williams,” noting the College’s ongoing relationship with the Chinese University in Hong Kong, for example. In addition, the ministries of education of both the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan award a graduating Williams senior one scholarship per year.

“If one clear idea emerged, it was the possibility of having study away programs that are not centered on the Chinese language but still allow students to experience the fascinating culture, history and politics.”

Both Schapiro and Kolesar emphasized the importance of the newly formed faculty and trustee committees on globalization. “Given Williams’ size, we can’t have programs in every country,” Kolesar said. “Deciding where the most effective relationships will be is the role of the globalization committee.”

He noted that the College has also been asked to establish affiliations in Singapore and the Middle East. “The economic, social and political development [in China] is astonishing. Based just on that, you’d certainly be drawn to doing something with China first if you were going to Asia.”

Correspondingly, Kolesar said that Chinese educators were impressed with the College’s extensive Asian studies program, which draws on 22 faculty members and offers five years of Chinese language instruction.

Central to this Chinese immersion were the roundtable discussions with both top educators and leaders in other fields. The Shanghai roundtable, for example, included Ziwang Xu, managing director of Goldman Sachs and Co.; Ciyun Zhang, editor-in-chief of Shanghai Daily; and Xing-Hai Fang, director-general of the Shanghai Office of Financial Services.

The discussions focused on higher education systems of each country. “These educators completely understand the liberal arts; they’d even quote part of the Williams mission statement to us,” Kolesar said. “Even, or especially, the businesspeople were very passionate in believing that it’s absolutely essential that political and business leaders have more general education, for the same reasons we do: independent thinking and creativity.”

Among the pioneers of liberal arts in China is Fudan University, which recently started a compulsory general education program for all first-year students. Students live together in four residential groupings and study a set curriculum of sciences, humanities and great books in Eastern and Western traditions which “puts the Columbia core to shame in terms of breadth and depth,” Kolesar said. “It’s very ambitious, but educators in other universities say it’s quite a risk. They want change, but it’s not a system that will change easily.”

Like much of the trip, this unique roundtable format was initiated by Jack Wadsworth ’61, former chairman of Morgan Stanley, and Bob Oxnam ’64, former president of the Asia Society. “Jack Wadsworth and Bob Oxnam are legends in China and can open virtually any door,” Schapiro said. “We had a spectacular team on the trip.”

Kolesar also lauded Oxnam’s and Wadsworth’s efforts in organizing the trip. “There’s no shortage of American college presidents visiting China, but I don’t know that they had quite the breadth of experience that we were able to have, thanks to Jack’s and Bob’s knowledge and connections. It would be worth visiting China just as a tourist, but to go and have such a deeper engagement was a rare privilege.”