Amid doubts and calls for transparency, faculty to help shape GW’s future in China

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Samuel Klein

GW was in talks with the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, where administrators have floated the idea of building a campus.

An early September campus visit by China’s vice minister for education, Hao Ping, showed some of the University’s progress as it negotiates with the Chinese government to grant degrees and possibly build a campus 7,000 miles away.

But faculty leaders, who said they had been shut out of years of planning for GW’s China initiatives, were annoyed as top administrators took photos and met with the top Chinese leader.

Scheherazade Rehman, chair of the Faculty Senate executive committee, emailed colleagues on the committee decrying that they had “absolutely no formal communication” from administrators about programs in China.

“A bit of hand-shaking will not make up for this and nor should we rubber stamp any project of such importance to the University without the facts and transparency,” Rehman said in a July 31 email obtained by The Hatchet.

Now, top administrators are trying to rally faculty support around the high-stakes project that looks to raise the University’s global reputation, dig for deeper research opportunities and find untapped revenue sources.

Provost Steven Lerman announced last week that a committee of professors with experience in China will help decide GW’s future strategy there, more than two years after former GW School of Business Dean Doug Guthrie’s work led an aggressive pursuit of more academic programs in the country. Guthrie was fired as dean and vice president of China operations Aug. 22 after he could not agree with the provost on a future budget.

Lerman will speak to the Faculty Senate on Friday, the group’s first in-depth briefing on GW’s plans in China since Rehman and others brought their concerns about transparency to Lerman and University President Steven Knapp this summer.

Both administrators had planned to address the senate’s executive committee in mid-August about the China plans, but Knapp later cancelled the meeting.

Lerman said last week that a new faculty committee will take over China plans at a crucial time, telling professors that this is “the year to get the China strategy right.”

“At this point, I think it’s a wide-open field – that we don’t know exactly what we want to do. But this is the year to figure it out,” Lerman said.

The right to award degrees
So far, GW’s China strategy has been far-reaching. It has two successful graduate programs, plans to expand medical education and aspirations to possibly build a campus in Beijing.

The University is also in talks with the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing to start new programs, though no deal has been struck, Lerman confirmed last week.

The biggest question mark for GW, however, is whether it can negotiate for degree-granting status in China – a priority of Guthrie’s before he was fired in August. The designation potentially would allow GW to emblazon its international name and attract hundreds more tuition-paying students.

Only five foreign universities have earned the right from the Chinese Ministry of Education to award degrees. Research from the University of Albany last May showed that up to 10 more universities could reach that status in the next decade.

Universities similar to GW have made headway, even as top schools like Harvard and Yale have pulled back for fear that they could not provide the same high level of teaching in China.

Duke University earned the right last month and New York University opened a campus in Shanghai this fall. Both overcame loud faculty opposition over the high cost of building a foreign campus and complaints that faculty were kept out of the loop.

“The main lesson from Duke and NYU is that a major expansion of any program requires the support and buy-in of the faculty,” Lerman said in an email Thursday. “It is also important that any program be evaluated to ensure it meets our core principles regarding academic integrity, academic freedom and fiscal sustainability.”

Lofty goals, brewing discontent
GW’s ambitions in China swelled quickly once Guthrie, a expert on Chinese economic development, was hired in 2010 to lead the business school.

The University acquired academic buildings in the city of Suzhou, and became the D.C. home to the Confucius Institute, an offshoot of the Chinese government that teaches non-degree language and culture courses. Plans for China became a central part of GW’s globalization goals in its decade-long strategic plan approved in May.

All the while, administrators traveled several times a year to China to build ties with universities and potential donors.

The flurry of activity, though, raised eyebrows among faculty. They questioned whether degree programs would be financially viable and how much faculty would be paid for teaching 7,000 miles away.

Shawn McHale, associate professor of international affairs and former director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies, said Guthrie’s appointment to lead the University’s efforts in China “came out of left field.”

He added that faculty with experience in Asian studies were left completely out of discussions that were closed off between Guthrie and other top administrators.

“Essentially, unless you have buy-in from the faculty and other constituencies, the strategy ends up being relatively hollow,” McHale said.

Charles Garris, a member of the Faculty Senate and an engineering professor, said professors resented growth in China because Guthrie and other administrators were “secretive” about plans.

“It violates the way we do things at GW. The faculty code states developing new curriculum and programs are things faculty should be involved in,” Garris said.

Rehman, the Faculty Senate leader, also called for more information about GW’s plans in emails to colleagues. She said in an interview last month that she supports GW’s ambitions in China, but was raising constructive questions and advocating for transparency.

Searching for more
Some professors question whether GW’s China initiatives will flourish without Guthrie, whose Chinese fluency and connections led the way for the University.

“I think the China initiative will lose its momentum and it will become just another international location in GW’s arsenal,” said a professor with knowledge of GW’s early talks in China who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “China as a destination for GW lost its most enthusiastic and knowledgeable advocate with Doug Guthrie’s departure.”

A four-year program that would have taken undergraduates from D.C. to China and France was shelved last spring.

Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Dean Ben Vinson, who took over the school’s leadership in August, said the school was taking a step back from the program to consider whether to work with other emerging markets around the globe.

“We’re looking broadly, and so trying to think about specific tracks is way too specific,” Vinson said. “We’re going to definitely be involved in the world in a global way. What that looks like, we’re still working on.”

But for now, at least, other parts of GW are moving forward in China.

Finance professor George Jabbour, who oversees the master of finance exchange program, recently traveled to China to renew those program contracts as well as discuss future partnerships.

He said Renmin University still wants to establish an undergraduate program with GW, with students spending more than one year abroad in China. He also met with administrators at Tsinghua University in Beijing to discuss a dual-degree program for executive education.

Jabbour said GW is navigating the degree-granting process now, but did not know where the University was in the process. The Office of General Council ensures GW adheres to the many requirements laid out by the Ministry of Education, he said.

“GW has a good name in China. Other universities are contacting us, and me also, to open new degrees,” he said.

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