Sunday, April 20, 2008

President Hennessy at PKU

President Hennessy spoke at PKU just now: "Stepping Up: How Universities Must Change to Meet the Needs of Society in the 21st Century".

I think I was the only Stanford student that went. I guess some people were in class, others couldn't wake up, and the others who wanted to go probably didn't know the location. I happened to go up to the lounge really early, so I ran into Professor Shen who is the Stanford at Beijing program director, and a couple other Stanford faculty, a few minutes before they left. I got to sit in VIP seating with the Stanford delegation, behind Vice Provost Bravman and Dean Plummer. Pretty sweet.

Hennessy mentioned a lot of history and numbers in his talk. There have been 500+ Stanford students that studied at PKU since 1994, the first Stanford students went to China in 1979, that sort of thing. He discussed three trends that he sees as relevant to universities in the 21st century:
1. increasing complexities that society faces, like the environmental challenges that come with overpopulation and economic development
2. globalization, as local problems like terrorism and infectious diseases become global problems, and how the rise of Asia is an important subtext to globalization
3. the speed of technological development, so that universities are key in discovering new knowledge and educating their students to use this knowledge.
And, very pertinent to his actually being at PKU, he talked about how universities need to collaborate more and prepare students to collaborate more.

Hennessy's remarks probably lasted half an hour, and then it opened up to questions. The first girl said that Hennessy was too idealistic and the reality is that the Chinese government suppresses many of their dreams; someone else also commented on the political tension right now. One person asked how PKU students can go to Stanford, in reference to the Stanford at Beijing program; Hennessy said, "You can come if you apply and get in!" rather sidestepping the question. I asked the last question - just a generic question on behalf of the Stanford students here, what we should do to make the most of our time, not particularly brilliant but I felt I should at least represent the Stanford students. Hennessy somewhat remembers me from our long conversation yesterday, I think! How exciting. His answer wasn't too specific though, just 1. spend more time with locals, but more pointedly, 2. get fluent in Chinese.

On a slightly related note, one of the PKU administrators working on this program saw me after the event concluded, and asked me if I was the one that did the opening remarks for the program on the first day, which were in Chinese (I did). Then he complimented me on my English, saying it was very fluent, and asked if I had prepared my question for Hennessy beforehand (I did not), and that it was very well asked. I suppose the PKU students wrote out their questions ahead of time, but I'd hope my English is good enough to wing a casual question...

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