University sends delegation to further explore proposed joint university over spring break

Notre Dame International in October 2014 presented for comment a white paper on a proposed joint residential liberal arts college with Zhejiang University (ZJU) at a new international campus in Haining, China.  On December 5, J. Nicholas Entrikin, Associate Provost and Vice President for Internationalization, hosted a faculty town hall meeting at which faculty raised numerous objections to the proposal.

University President Father John Jenkins, CSC, Provost Thomas Burish, and Entrikin traveled to China in January to meet with education leaders, religious leaders, and government officials to discuss the proposal.  Paul Browne, Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications, told the Rover that the three administrators “met with various officials of the Catholic Church in China, at Zhejiang University, the United States Embassy, and the ministry of education in China.  Fr. Jenkins also met with the relevant offices in the Vatican.”  Browne clarified that Fr. Jenkins met only with bishops and priests who have full approval of the Holy See—both bishops and priests who are part of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and bishops and priests who are not.

A faculty delegation visited China from March 9 to 15 under the leadership of Entrikin and Jonathan Noble, Assistant Provost for Internationalization, Asia.  The delegation included Michael Desch, Chair of the Political Science Department; Kenneth Henderson, Chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department; Hildegund Müller, Associate Professor of Classics; Claudia Polini, Professor of Mathematics; and Elliott Visconsi, Associate Professor of English.

According to an advanced copy of a report prepared for the Notre Dame International website, “The delegation’s objective was to help evaluate Notre Dame’s opportunity to develop a joint liberal arts college with Zhejiang University.  Towards this goal, the delegation met with administrators and faculty of other Sino-American and Sino-British higher education partnerships and programs, including NYU Shanghai, Duke Kunshan, the University of Nottingham Ningbo, and the Harvard Shanghai Center.”

The delegation visited Haining and met with officials from ZJU “to discuss curricular issues related to the proposal,” and also “attended Mass at Saint Joseph’s Church in Shanghai, where they met with Catholic priests and academics.”  All five faculty members on the delegation declined to comment for this story.

As university administrators continue to explore the proposal and gather information from relevant officials, Burish emphasized in a March 16 letter to faculty that, “No decision has been made on whether to enter into a partnership with ZJU, and if so, what the terms of the partnership would be.  We hope to reach a decision before the start of the fall semester, though no firm deadline has been set.”  In subsequent comments made to the Rover, Burish indicated that a decision may not be made until after the start of the fall semester.

The Notre Dame International report states, “Further faculty discussions on the proposed collaboration will be organized within the relevant colleges and will include members of the ND-ZJU Faculty Curriculum Committee.”

A significant number of faculty, including those with expertise in China and who lead institutes and centers involved with international relations, retain deep reservations regarding the proposed collaboration.  Father Bill Miscamble, CSC, Professor of History, told the Rover, “This is a case where a pretense of consultation is being made, but it is really a veneer to cover a decision that the administration, led by Provost Burish, wants to force on the University,” noting that the administration “seems determined to proceed ahead with this deeply flawed proposal despite the increasing political and religious repression in China and even further restrictions on academic freedom in recent months.”

Father Miscamble argued that the reason so many faculty have objected to the proposal is simple: “It is easy to understand why, as Notre Dame would have to surrender essential parts of its identity to collaborate with a state sponsored university in China.  It would also have to ignore the Chinese record on human rights, academic freedom, and religious persecution.”

Henry Weinfield, Professor of the Program of Liberal Studies, expressed to the Rover his opposition to the effort to create a joint university in China.  “From the outset I have been baffled by the administration’s desire to enter into such a program, given the fact that the Roman Catholic Church is not permitted to operate in China and that its priests and bishops in the country have long been persecuted,” Weinfield said.  “It may be that the administration thinks that Notre Dame’s participation in a joint program with Zhejiang University will have the effect of changing China’s policies regarding the Church.  If so, this strikes me as extraordinarily naive.  Though China has embraced capitalism, it is and remains a totalitarian nation.”

Weinfield argued that while China remains a totalitarian nation, the university cannot establish an institutional tie with Chinese universities.  “As far as religion is concerned, what that means in practice is that China insists on exerting total control over religious institutions,” Weinfield continued.  “Just as China refuses to allow the Roman Catholic Church to operate, so it refuses to allow Tibetan Buddhists to profess their allegiance to the Dalai Lama, who for that reason lives in exile.  If China were to undergo a sea change, such that it no longer insisted on controlling and manipulating the religious beliefs and allegiances of its citizens, then it would be appropriate for Notre Dame to establish ties with Chinese universities; but certainly not before.  Why the administration doesn’t see this is, as I said, mystifying to me.”

Father Miscamble also expressed reservations about academic freedom in any joint university.  “Notre Dame would have to commit to serious self-censorship in the academic courses pursued in any ZJU collaboration,” Miscamble said.  “I have pointed out previously the difficulty of a serious history course being offered on the post-war history of China.  Would it be possible in such a course to mention Mao’s Great Leap Forward and the upwards of 40 million people who died of starvation?  Could there be a discussion of the Cultural Revolution that Mao imposed on his country in the 1960s with such disastrous consequences?  Could Tibet or Tiananmen Square be raised in a ND/ZJU classroom?

“These questions regarding how history would be taught can be replicated across a range of disciplines such as theology, philosophy, and political theory.  They clarify that it is a contradiction for Notre Dame to pursue a serious liberal arts program in China at this time.  It simply cannot be done with integrity.”

Miscamble concluded by advising that the administration’s ultimate decision “will tell us much about what they think of the liberal arts and of genuine academic inquiry both here and in China.”

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