A convoy of Yale administrators visited Beijing late last week to discuss new undergraduate academic collaborations with Chinese universities, acting in line with a broad plan to establish “sister school” relationships with universities around the world.
University Vice President Linda Lorimer and Yale College Dean Peter Salovey led the delegation of Yale officials that met with leaders of Peking University and Tsinghua University — two of China’s top universities, both in Beijing. The officials laid the foundation for enhanced Yale study abroad and internship programs in China, effectively making strides to expand international opportunities for students as recommended in the 2003 undergraduate curricular review.
Salovey, who is scheduled to return to campus today, said on Saturday that Yale is exploring “new models” of overseas study programs, building on Yale’s storied ties to China and taking advantage of the country’s burgeoning university system.
“One thing we have been emphasizing, and getting favorable responses, is that any program in which Yale might participate would need to place Yale students in close contact with students in China,” Salovey said in an e-mail from Beijing. “We are not interested in cloistering Yale students but rather in their having a genuine international experience.”
Salovey said in an interview two weeks ago, before leaving for China, that forging “sister school” relationships is a key part of his agenda as undergraduate dean. “Sister school” relationships would connect Yalies and foreign students through substantive academic interactions, he said.
“We call for overseas study in the [academic review], but that means we must make arrangements with other universities to partner with us,” Salovey said. “What we don’t want to do is set up enclaves of ‘Yaleness’ in foreign countries. The experience the students will have is not Yale-in-Beijing, but rather a collaboration between Yale and Beijing.”
The relationships will not be “imperialistic,” he said, but rather a way for Yale to ensure the quality of students’ academic experiences abroad.
Though Yale officials are still working out details with Chinese officials, Salovey said on Saturday that the new partnerships with Peking and Tsinghua universities will include study abroad exchanges between the schools as well as internship options for Yale students with Chinese businesses and non-governmental organizations.
University President Richard Levin said the extent of the partnerships “remains to be seen” and warned that the partnerships were only “exploratory.”
“Nothing is going to happen overnight,” Levin said, adding that the faculty will eventually need to vote on the proposed partnerships.
Yale Corporation member Len Baker said the partnerships will create a “win-win situation” for Yale, China and the rest of the world. But he said many relationships between Chinese schools and other American universities are “top-down” and do not pan out to be academically feasible, often serving as little more than public relations coups for the universities.
“The trick, which Yale has always been very good at doing, is making these things really sound academically,” Baker said. “What President Levin is looking for out of various opportunities is doing things that make sense academically so there are real student exchanges and real intellectual exchanges.”
Comparative literature professor Michael Holquist said “a lot of good” could come from an academic partnership between Yale and China, especially given China’s dedication to moving to the forefront of higher education.
“I think it would be the most exciting thing in the world,” Holquist said. “[The Chinese] are doing quite interesting work. There was a time when that wasn’t the case, I must say. They’ve really come a long way, and some of the best work that’s being done there is as good as the best work going on anywhere in the world right now.”
Alexander Millman ’06, an East Asian studies major, said he hopes the new partnerships will make China more accessible to Yalies studying Chinese languages and cultures.
“I think it’s very good that Yale is trying to expand more internationally,” Millman said.