Presidents' Dialogue at Shanghai Jiao Tong University
June 29, 2010
It is an honor to be here today, and to join Madame Ma and President Zhang in speaking with you. One of the great joys of being a university president is interacting with students, and I look forward to hearing your ideas and questions shortly.
Just last month, the University of Michigan was honored to host Vice President Zhen Huang, along with more than 30 university leaders from throughout China, who came to our campus to learn about American higher education. This is a forum we host every two years and it is a wonderful venue for exchanging ideas, much like our engineering students experience through the Joint Institute.
Today, the sharing of ideas and promotion of knowledge continues as the University of Michigan and Shanghai Jiao Tong University deepen our collaborations. This is a significant day in the rich history of our two universities, and one I believe holds tremendous promise for our institutions and, more importantly, for our communities and countries.
Five years ago this month, Michigan and Shanghai Jiao Tong came together to create China’s first comprehensive university-to-university partnership with degree-granting programs. Our students are engaging with each other and with faculty on either side of the Pacific as they explore engineering, the life sciences, language and culture.
At that time, I shared four objectives I consider critical for great universities to achieve if we are to have a genuine impact in the 21st century. I believe just as strongly in those goals today, and our newest agreement continues to move our institutions forward.
Let me re-visit those objectives. As universities, we must always strive to:
- Create a university culture that draws on expertise across disciplines, collaborates widely, and is driven by the faculty;
- Make our university communities as diverse as the wider world in which we and our graduates must compete, and to which we must contribute;
- Use technology to make information and ideas widely available;
- And lead in meeting the needs of our local communities, which, paradoxically, means that the university must be global.
I want to focus today on that final objective, that we be global in our academic ventures to have a positive impact on our local communities.
There is a Chinese proverb that tells us, “Each generation will reap what the former generation has sown.”
This adage is open to interpretation. It can be offered as a dire warning, a resigned fait accompli, or, as I hope today’s faculty and students hear it, a source of inspiration. Because as current and future scientists, authors, lawyers, engineers and artists, you are creating tomorrow’s world, the world of your children and grandchildren.
That is what makes our latest collaboration so important. Today’s research awards for faculty will drive discovery and the creation of new knowledge in two areas critical to our wellbeing, as individuals and as prosperous nations: human health and renewable energy.
There are few greater challenges facing our world today than developing new sources of energy that are sustainable and clean. In the United States right now, we are seeing the devastating effects of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This catastrophe is wreaking havoc on livelihoods and the environment, and genuinely threatens a way of life for thousands.
We do not yet know what changes await this region of the world – what the next generation will reap from the calamity we have sown. But we can see how vital it is to develop new sources of energy today for a safer world tomorrow.
That is why I am so pleased we will work together to find positive, sustainable approaches to energy development. And it is why our universities have come together on a joint research proposal to the Chinese and American governments to create a Clean Energy Research Center for Clean Vehicles.
Our two nations are the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, as well as the largest markets for cars and trucks. We now will work together, as two of the world’s great universities, to develop technologies for the most effective clean vehicles.
There is similar promise in our work in biomedical technologies. The needs are immense, as we struggle with disease, public health challenges, financial costs, and social expectations and responsibilities.
In the United States, for example, we have extraordinary health systems, including one at the University of Michigan. We also face extraordinary costs, as well as discrepancies in who receives care and the level of treatment they receive. As a society, we are working to rectify these issues, but the task is far from complete.
What can we learn from China? Our societies and cultures are different, and these differences provide opportunities for developing new perspectives and new paradigms. Working with researchers at your university, Michigan faculty and students hope to open new doors for developing innovative approaches to improving human health.
What is most striking about the work we have launched today, as well as our ongoing teaching and research, is the rich depth of our relationship as universities.
The research and learning under way at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the University of Michigan infuses our institutions. This relationship is now part of our academic culture, and one we embrace. We have moved well beyond ties between individual faculty members and deep into an institutional partnership that is rare in global higher education.
We should not limit this reciprocity to our two institutions. In recent years, the University of Michigan has forged institutional bonds with universities in Ghana and South Africa, and elsewhere in China. We are pursuing ventures in social science, medicine, information technology, arts and culture, and survey research, all with the objective of improving health, wellbeing and quality of life. We also want to expand opportunities for our students, because today’s workplace demands graduates who understand the value of global perspectives.
The level of cooperation seen here between Michigan and Shanghai Jiao Tong serves as a model for international collaboration in higher education.
At Michigan, we are just as aggressive about finding the best partners in business and industry. We want to connect our research and technology with the needs of our communities, to advance the economy and make our society more prosperous. As we are with other great universities, we are eager to collaborate and partner with companies to spur transformative research that can change the world.
The University of Michigan can trace its ties with China to the late 1840s. In the scope of China’s immense history, this is, of course, the blink of an eye. But in the history of American higher education, our university’s ties with your nation are extensive, durable, and significant.
Most significantly, this spirit of collegiality continues to evolve and intensify.
It is more important than ever to work together, as teachers and as students, as we reshape our economies and societies and address common challenges. Complex, global issues such as developing renewable energy – challenges that know no geopolitical boundaries – demand the expertise and creativity of many, and international collaborations between universities provide promise and potential.
Working together, we can build the base of knowledge and understanding that is the foundation of a more prosperous world. Working together, we will sow a strong, bright future for tomorrow’s generations.