It has been a little over a year since the Notre Dame administration circulated a white paper proposing a partnership with Zhejiang University (ZJU) in China. Last week, Notre Dame’s Student Union Senate passed two resolutions, both of which are targeted at increasing accountability and transparency on the part of the administration as the process of approving the proposal continues.
The first resolution calls for the Associate Provost for Internationalization—a position currently held by Nicholas Entrikin—to present updated information on the status of the partnership to the Student Union Senate once per semester. The resolution requested that the first of these presentations take place before the end of the current academic year.
The second of the two Senate resolutions requests that a standing committee be formed within the Provost’s Office to represent the Notre Dame community, made up of faculty, staff, and students. The committee would discuss the potential partnership and make recommendations as the decision-making process continues.
Notre Dame sophomore Michael Finan, who is just finishing his term as Dillon Hall’s senator, led the process of bringing these resolutions to the attention of the Senate. Finan told the Rover he first heard about the proposed joint university only at the beginning of this spring semester. “I was shocked to find out that initial discussions on the partnership began back in 2014,” he said.
Entrikin was scheduled to present to the senate during this semester on the topic of the proposed partnership. However, Entrikin cancelled the presentation on short notice and, according to Finan, declined requests to reschedule, citing his impending retirement, heavy travel, and a busy meeting schedule.
“I was very disappointed in Dr. Entrikin’s office for not taking the time to speak to students, especially since there have been no formal avenues of communication regarding this partnership between the administration and students,” Finan explained.
“I was struck by the complete lack of transparency from the administration,” said Kathleen Rocks, Cavanaugh Hall’s student senator and a co-sponsor of the two resolutions. “We have oversight committees for everything you can imagine, but not one to talk about creating a partnership with an overseas university? This seemed wrong to me, and I thought this was a complicated topic that deserved careful consideration.”
“It is our responsibility as students to hold the administration accountable and request transparency to include all members of the Notre Dame community when considering this partnership,” Finan said.
Rocks added that the Senate has repeatedly asked representatives from the Provost’s Office to meet with the governing body, but to no avail. “The complete lack of information does not bode well with me, and I think that as members of this University, we have a right to know exactly what our University is planning to do with campuses abroad,” she said.
The sponsoring senators also were worried about the project itself, unrelated to their concerns about the administration’s lack of transparency.
Rocks noted that the Haining Province, where ZJU is located, is known for religious oppression. “Notre Dame is supposed to provide the liberal arts education for ZJU students,” she said. “I am unsure about how a liberal arts education can flourish in a potentially oppressive environment.”
“I have concerns about Notre Dame partnering with Zhejiang University in China, as it clearly raises issues of human rights and religious freedom,” Finan agreed.
“I feel that much of what a good liberal arts education would provide runs contrary to the ideology of the Chinese government, and there is no guarantee that the liberal arts college will not suffer censorship because of this,” said sophomore John Kill, senator from St. Edward’s Hall and a third co-sponsor of these resolutions. [Editor’s note: Kill is a staff writer for the Rover.]
“I also am concerned about how Notre Dame can retain its Catholic’s identity when it partners with a secular University in a country that mandates secularism,” Rocks added.
“Zhejiang is an area of continual persecution of Christians in China,” noted Kill. “Though an argument exists that a permanent Notre Dame presence in the area will help to curb the persecution and provide an opportunity for evangelizing, I feel our presence in China may be hijacked to operate as a propaganda piece for the state, a ‘symbol’ of religious tolerance and freedom in a province that has historically suffered the persecution of the state.”
All three senators remain hopeful that the administration will respond positively to these resolutions.
“However, given that the administration has neglected to include the perspectives of students formally on this partnership in the past years, I’m wary that they may not be receptive to these resolutions,” Finan added.
Rocks said she thinks the requests made by these resolutions should be seen as reasonable and plausible. “I hope these resolutions will inform the Provost of the student interest in the matter and also foster a discussion that includes stakeholders from across campus,” she explained.
“We believe that our resolutions are straightforward, simple, and realistic,” Kill said. “However, we are wary about the University’s potential course of action, as to this point, nothing suggests that the University is wishing to engage in any greater discussion or debate on the potential partnership with Zhejiang.”
Finan, Rocks, and Kill all finish their terms as student senators this Friday, April 1, and hand over their positions to new senators from each of their dorms. However, they all hope to remain involved in this issue as it progresses.
“I speak on behalf of all Notre Dame students when I say that students want more transparency with the administration,” Finan concluded. “As students who love this university, our interests are Notre Dame’s interests. … Whenever a voice goes unheard—and in this case, it’s the voice of the student body—I think that has rippling effects on the strength of any community.”
Alexandra DeSanctis is a senior political science major living in Pangborn Hall (R.I.P. Pangborn). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.