ANNAPOLIS–Maryland Day is moving. It’s moving from College Park to Beijing, China. And it’s taking the president of the University of Maryland and four deans with it.
On Tuesday, C.D. (Dan) Mote Jr., president of the University of Maryland, will go to China at the invitation of the president of Peking University in Beijing, Xu Zhihong, to celebrate a day set aside for the University of Maryland and to strengthen the university’s already formidable relationship with China.
Mote will be joined the next week by the deans of four schools: business; chemical and life science; the behavioral and social sciences; and computer, math and physical sciences.
“This is a major opening for the university as a whole,” Mote said. “I think the partnership between China and the United States is critical for the future. ItÕs important that we reach out for our own benefit and for [China’s].”
Some human rights activists, however, cautioned against American universities being misled into thinking that China’s communist government has eased restrictions on academic freedom.
The idea for a Maryland Day in China arose from a visit to College Park in January by Peking University president, Xu Zhihong, who was touring the United States. He expressed an interest in hosting a special day for the university, putting Maryland in the company of such institutions as the Univerity of Cambridge in England and Yale University, which also have had their own days.
The relationship between the University of Maryland and the Republic of China dates back more than two decades. It includes the first research park established by the Chinese government outside mainland China and the Confucius Institute, an institute devoted to the Chinese language and culture on the College Park campus. In addition, Maryland has academic programs in criminology, engineering and extensive business training for Chinese students and executives.
In fact, according to Saul Sosnowski, the university’s director of international programs, a Chinese agency known as the Foreign Experts Bureau ranks Maryland No. 1 for the training of business executives. There are more students from China at the University of Maryland than from any other country, and university officials are hoping to increase that number.
Stephen Halperin, dean of the College of Computer, Math and Physical Science, acknowledged that a trip to China represents “quite an investment.” But, he said, “the reason IÕm making that investment is because I do hope weÕll get a greater flow of teachers and graduate students into our university.”
In business, Mote cited “remarkably successful” programs for training Chinese executives in fields such as finance and public administration. When they return to China, Mote said, “they immediately get promoted.” The Maryland business school also offers Masters in Business Administration programs in both Beijing and Shanghai, which will begin in November.
On this trip, university officials will also announce the finalists for their China Business Plan Competition, which will award $25,000 to an innovative Chinese entrepreneur who has the most promising business plan.
Mote’s trip comes at a time of explosive economic growth in China, as American companies and universities are scrambling to establish a toehold in what will be the world’s next economical and technological superpower.
“We recognize that China is a big opportunity and we also recognize that there’s a lot of competition in the marketplace,” said Asher Epstein, a director in the business school.
But experts like Sam Zarifi, deputy director for the Asia division of the Human Rights Watch, warn that American universities need to be more realistic about China’s motives.
“The Chinese have shown themselves very adept at taking technical expertise from the West while blocking the views” with which they do not agree, he said. “China still has very tight controls of freedom of expression in general and has recently clamped down on some things that are very important for academic work” such as the Internet. For example, Zarifi said it is nearly impossible to do a Google search on topics such as Taiwan or liberty.
“Academics certainly are among groups that are very tightly investigated and monitored,” he said. Zarifi added that there are some Chinese academics who have been in jail for political activities since the Tiananmen Square protests 16 years ago.
Mote acknowledged the political realities in China. “I think that everyone is well aware that the freedoms in China are not what they are here,” he said. “I think we have to respect their way of doing things … You donÕt go in telling your partner how to do things.”
Sosnowski said, though, that “you do visit your friends” and he attributes this trip to “a cultural element in international relationships.”
“There will be very tangible results in terms of what we do here and very tangible ones in term of long-term relationships,” he said.