[lg policy] Duke University's China Plan Sparks Doubts on Campus
haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Thu May 26 14:29:09 UTC 2011
Duke's China Plan Sparks Doubts on Campus
By Ian Wilhelm
Duke University's decision to build a campus in Kunshan, China, has
run into a snag, as a small, but growing number of Duke academics are
raising questions about how the venture will be carried out.
In the student newspaper, academic forums, and in e-mails to the
administration, they are demanding more details about how the
university will finance the project on the heels of tough budget cuts,
how it will recruit professors to teach overseas, and how it will
navigate the limits of academic freedom under the country's
At the heart of their concerns is that Duke's president, Richard H.
Brodhead, has not done enough to solicit faculty input and has
provided them with a constantly changing view of what the branch
campus will be.
In an interview with The Chronicle, Mr. Brodhead says that he has kept
faculty representatives in the loop and that any appearance that he
has painted an inconsistent picture of the project stems from
negotiating a complex deal in a foreign country, which requires a
great degree of flexibility.
"Anyone who has wanted to stay tuned to the channel has understood
that each of these changes is part of the working through of the
process of coming to a tenable agreement," he says.
Such statements have not quieted the critics however. They point out
that only now, as the campus is being built, is the faculty of Duke's
Fuqua School of Business, which is expected to spearhead Kunshan's
academic programs, getting an opportunity to closely examine the
proposed China curriculum.
"There's widespread concern about the viability of the project," says
E. Allan Lind, a professor in the business school, who has supported a
campaign to halt the Kunshan project until a more-thorough review of
its finances and educational offerings can be conducted. "It's
unfortunate they didn't consult us."
Since 2007, Mr. Brodhead has championed an aggressive global strategy
for Duke, saying that for the university to continue to be a top-tier
institution, it needs to strengthen its international presence. As
laid out in a planning guide developed by the office of the provost,
the administration sees the future of Duke as a "globally networked
university" in which its main campus in Durham, N.C., is one of
several key locations around the world. Duke's China campus, about 40
miles west of Shanghai, will be a "node" in the network.
Duke's worldwide goals resemble those of another elite
higher-education institution, New York University, which opened an Abu
Dhabi campus last year and announced in January that it had received
approval from China's Ministry of Education to open a branch campus in
While NYU is starting with undergraduate education, Duke is taking
what it sees as a more cautious approach. Eventually Duke Kunshan
University, as it is known, will be a comprehensive research
university providing both undergraduate and graduate courses. But its
initial offering will be a master's degree in management studies
starting in 2012, and Duke will add an executive M.B.A. program and
other courses in subsequent years. With China's economy booming,
government and business leaders there are keen on Western-style
business education, says the Duke planning document, and the
management course would attract college graduates with little or no
But the viability of the degree is under scrutiny, raising questions
about the whole endeavor and its planning.
A confidential consultant's report commissioned by Duke, which was
made widely available online by a professor critical of the Kunshan
effort, says that Chinese students value a Duke education, but believe
the real value is in studying in America and receiving a
cross-cultural experience. The perception is that foreign universities
water down their academic programs abroad.
In interviews with 50 Chinese students at elite universities in China,
40 percent said they would consider the degree if it were offered in
Durham, while 16 percent would consider enrolling in China—and that's
only if the tuition were significantly lower than what it would cost
at Duke's main campus. The percentage of interested students grows if
Duke were to offer a significant part of the course in America, an
idea the administration is considering.
The report fueled questions about how Duke will pay for the project,
which depends in part on revenue generated by tuition. While Duke
administrators say that a "price point" has not been set, the planning
document assumes significant cash flow from tuition. In the 2016-17
academic year, when the university plans to be offering a variety of
academic programs in China, Duke expects to generate some
$24.5-million from an estimated 600 students.
To be sure, under the deal, the Municipality of Kunshan is carrying
the heaviest financial load. The city is providing 200 acres of land
(with the campus leased to Duke for 10 years at no cost), and it is
paying for the construction. Duke will share operational costs with
Kunshan for six years, after which the joint commitment may be
renewed. (A third partner, Wuhan University, will play a governance
and educational role, but has no financial stake in the venture.)
In all, Duke's investment is estimated at $42.5-million from 2011 to
2017. Part of that amount comes from reallocating existing budget
expenditures, and part of it will be paid for by $10-million the
university expects to raise from donors. (Mr. Brodhead says a
significant portion of that amount has been collected already.) An
estimated $14.6-million will come from Duke's strategic funds, which
technically could go to support other programs on its main campus.
While such expenses are relatively small for an institution of Duke's
wealth, many professors on campus are sensitive about where the
university's money is going after sharp budget cuts and a two-year
freeze in faculty salaries, says Craig S. Henriquez, a
computer-science professor who steps down as chairman of the
university's Academic Council in June.
"The big concern is how quickly those costs could rise if certain
things don't come to fruition as anticipated," he says. "What happens
if philanthropy doesn't come through as imagined? What happens if the
tuition assumptions are not what they expect?"
The council established a Global Priorities Committee last fall to
more closely examine Kunshan and other international projects.
Mixed Views Among Faculty
Mr. Henriquez says the administration has kept the Academic Council
and its various committees well informed of the developments in China.
However, he would like to hear more from faculty members who are
excited to pioneer education in Kunshan.
Duke's provost, Peter Lange, says there is a growing number of Duke
faculty interested in the academic opportunities at Duke Kunshan
University. Last month 65 to 70 professors met with him to discuss
teaching and research there, he says, and he is forming a new council
of professors and administrators to coordinate China academic
activities. "We focused quite intently on getting the administrative
pieces in place, and now that those are in sight, we've really cranked
up the faculty-engagement piece," he says.
Other administrators echo the provost.
"Just about everyone I talk to here is enthusiastic," says Michael H.
Merson, director of Duke's Global Health Institute, which is expected
to open a research center in Kunshan and develop both undergraduate
and graduate courses.
But other faculty members are more reticent about the project.
Thomas Pfau, a Duke professor of English and German who has perhaps
been the most vocal faculty critic of Kunshan, sees a
"high-handedness" in the administration's handling of the project. Mr.
Pfau first began publicly challenging the project after an April 7
editorial in the student newspaper urged Duke faculty to get "on
board" with the international effort. In 30 minutes, he dashed off a
letter criticizing the editorial—"I just had one of those fits faculty
occasionally get"—and when his response was published, he began
receiving dozens of e-mails from colleagues who had similar questions
about the Kunshan venture. "It turned out a I hit a raw nerve."
With the help of another humanities professor, he expanded his
original letter into a lengthy online editorial that called for the
administration and Duke trustees to put a hold on the Kunshan
endeavor. He provided links to the Duke planning document and the
confidential China Market Research Group report, which Mr. Pfau says
he received from a colleague in the business school whom he declined
While he is concerned about the finances and the ability of Duke
professors to conduct politically sensitive research and teaching in
China, Mr. Pfau has more fundamental questions about why Duke needs to
construct a facility in Kunshan at all. He argues that the global plan
laid out by Mr. Brodhead and the administration offers little evidence
of the educational value of establishing a big Chinese presence, and
he derides their global network as a "Burger King franchise" model of
higher education. "It has the feel of an initiative that is driven
mostly by a kind of irrational craving for visibility," he says, "but
there is no intellectual substance or gain for us."
Mr. Pfau says he is not an "isolationist" and points to his own
background as a German who came to the United States for its academic
prowess. He would like Duke to pursue stronger international ties, he
says, but through increased faculty and student exchanges and joint
programs with foreign institutions that don't require building a
Mr. Brodhead counters that a deep engagement with China is crucial to
the future of American education.
He says that a large overseas investment like the one in Kunshan is
bound to trigger some "unease" on the Duke campus and that part of the
challenge of giving the faculty members a definitive picture of
Kunshan is that the project remains very much a work in progress even
"A crucial phrase with our agreements with the Municipality of Kunshan
is: step-by-step. You'll take one step and see what that taught you,
and then you'll be in a better position to take the second step."
He acknowledges there have been some course corrections along the way.
For example, originally Duke was to work with Shanghai Jiao Tong
University, but it pulled out and Duke was forced to look for a new
And he says Duke will in a sense need to test the market to see if its
tuition and student-enrollment figures match its estimates. "Of course
there are uncertainties in our numbers, and there will be until
experience corrects them," he says. "However we have studied the
possibilities of this as or more carefully than any program we've ever
Next month will be a significant test for the Kunshan project. The
Fuqua School of Business has formed committees to outline the proposed
curriculum at Kunshan, and on June 20 about 95 faculty members from
the business school will vote whether to approve the courses.
Duke administrators are confident they will have enough faculty
support to move the project forward.
Mr. Lind, the business-school professor who has called for greater
scrutiny of the China effort, says he is waiting to see what the
faculty committees produce before he decides how he'll vote. Yet he
remains skeptical of the campus's feasibility.
"In my view, with the justification for the Duke Kunshan campus, a
number of assumption were made," he says. "I don't see the data for
Harold F. Schiffman
Professor Emeritus of
Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305
Phone: (215) 898-7475
Fax: (215) 573-2138
Email: haroldfs at gmail.com
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