In a letter sent out to faculty on Monday, Notre Dame announced that the proposal to establish a joint liberal arts college with Zhejiang University (ZJU) will not proceed as planned. J. Nicholas Entrikin, Vice President and Associate Provost for Internationalization and Professor of Sociology, composed the letter explaining the University’s decision.
The partnership was proposed in October 2014 in a white paper from Entriken and Dr. Jonathan Noble, Assistant Provost for Asia. According to Entrikin’s letter, the partnership between Notre Dame and ZJU involved a plan to create “one of six joint colleges and institutes on Zhejiang’s new international campus in Haining, China.” The letter also describes the nearly two-year process of conversations, visits, and meetings that the two universities have participated in to decide how to collaborate.
Entrikin refers to “external advisors” who have aided this process, including “leaders in the academy, Church, business, and government.” He says that these advisors “were generally supportive of our efforts,” but the partnership has been controversial among faculty and students. Notre Dame’s Student Senate recently called for more transparency between administration and students about the status and decision-making process of the potential partnership. In addition, some faculty have spoken out against the partnership, and a faculty town hall earlier this semester discussed its possible merits and drawbacks.
The letter continues that advisors also were “unanimous in their advice to proceed gradually and deliberately in working out important details before making any final decision.”
Entriken subsequently describes the most recent development in that process: while connections with ZJU will continue on some level, “such cooperation may include the Haining campus but would not be focused on the establishment of a joint college.”
Sycamore Trust, an alumni organization that works to promote adherence to Catholic identity at Notre Dame, said in its most recent newsletter, “This is a triumph for common sense and the Catholic mission of the school. There was widespread opposition from faculty as well as from outside the university. … We described at some length China’s appalling record of religious persecution and suppression of human rights.”
According to the letter, ending the proposal of a joint college will allow Notre Dame and ZJU to interact in the most productive way. Entrikin claims that over time, those who discussed the partnership “were more easily able to discriminate and to delineate some of the key challenges as well as advantages in bringing together two very different approaches to higher education.” He further added that “broader cooperation” will continue as a “more effective means for achieving our common interests.”
Erikin also notes that the universities have continued discussing methods of “broader cooperation,” such as exchange programs with undergraduates and research projects among faculty. Co-taught classes will also be a possibility.
The letter concludes, “Our Zhejiang colleagues now better understand what it means to be an excellent Catholic university, and we now better understand the academic achievements and aspirations of one of China’s leading universities.”
When contacted, Assistant Vice President for University Communications Dennis Brown directed the Rover to Entrikin’s letter but declined to make any further comments.
The Sycamore Trust newsletter comments in conclusion, “The threat is ended, for now at least. All who treasure Notre Dame as a Catholic university are indebted to those within and without the university who raised their voices in opposition, and we thank also Father Jenkins and his associates for their most welcome decision.”
Sophia Buono is a sophomore PLS major and ESS minor. While she loves Chinese food, she prefers Cuban cuisine, and looks forward to making black beans and rice with her friends this weekend. If you care to partake in the feast, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.