UC leader bolsters academic ties to China

Updated: 2013-02-22 14:04

By Chen Jia in San Francisco (China Daily)

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UC leader bolsters academic ties to China

A top administrator in California's vast public university system says she's committed to strengthening cultural and interpersonal ties between China and the United States, especially in the academic fields of education, science and technology.

"China represents the majority of individual scholars and students from Asia for us," said Linda Katehi, chancellor of the University of California, Davis, which is one of the state system's biggest campuses by enrollment - and No 1 in land mass.

"Even at a time when we didn't have many international undergraduates, we had a priority in bringing scholars from Asia, primarily from China," she said.

UC Davis, founded in 1905 as a small agricultural college, has been active in the development of Chinese-US relations. Many of the school's academic departments and faculty members have worked on projects with counterparts from Chinese universities.

"There are a lot of examples - maybe more than 20 or 25 or so programs - that we have under way," the chancellor said.

"The US and China are trying to find common policies and practices when it comes to research in the creation of knowledge and creation of intellectual property" for the countries' mutual benefit, Katehi said.

UC Davis, whose student body is second in size only to the flagship campus in Berkeley among California's public universities, recently boosted its name recognition in China. That's due to a story about a Chinese town and its links to a now-deceased Davis professor and China's new leadership.

Milton Gardner, who taught at UC Davis for 30 years and helped develop its physics department, lived in Guling, China, for the first nine years of his life, until 1911.

The mountain resort about 13 kilometers from Fuzhou, capital of southeastern Fujian province, is known for attracting scores of Western diplomats, missionaries and merchants beginning in the late 1880s.

In 1992, Elizabeth Gardner wanted to fulfill her husband's wish of revisiting his boyhood home. Assisting her in this quest was Xi Jinping, the new general secretary of the Communist Party of China, who at the time was Party secretary in Fuzhou.

To express her gratitude, the 76-year-old widow sent Xi a pair of traditional Chinese vases kept by her husband for years. In return, she received a pair of vases from Xi during her trip.

During her two-day stay in Guling, she met with nine elderly villagers who recalled the days when Guling was a popular place for Westerners to avoid the summer heat.

The story of Guling and the Gardners was mentioned by Xi when, as China's vice-president, he visited the United States in February 2012.

Katehi was in the audience for the speech in which Xi brought up the story. She later wrote to the Chinese leader, describing his account about Guling as "heartwarming and wonderful".

In her letter, Katehi praised Xi's efforts 20 years earlier to help Gardner's widow prepare for her intended visit. Professor Gardner had fond memories of his early years in Guling, the chancellor wrote.

It was "a powerful example of how relations between China and the United States can be advanced by one-to-one acts of kindness and generosity such as those you displayed toward this American family," Katehi told Xi.

The vice-president wrote back: "Amity between people is what underpins good relations between countries. I hope UC Davis will continue to support and promote China-US cultural and people-to-people ties, especially exchanges and cooperation in education, science and technology, and play an active role in building Sino-US friendship."

Chinese students admitted to UC Davis are especially proud of its link to their country's leader, said Zhang Meng, a senior manager at CACDIY International, a Beijing-based organization that helps Chinese arrange study abroad.

"The employment market in China, hopefully, has better recognition of UC Davis graduates," Alice Zhang, a Chinese student at the university, told China Daily.

She complained that Chinese who have studied at US institutions are sometimes tarnished by perceptions that some rich international students pay their way into admission.

Katehi, the chancellor, explained why in-state tuition for US citizens and legal residents who have lived in California for at least a year is cheaper than for other students.

"It is true that the in-state-tuition remains almost two and a half times lower than for international students," she said. "But it's not only for international students: American students who come from out of state pay the same as international students.

"Bringing in international students just for the money would not be the right thing to do. UC Davis needs international students to be here because they really enrich the education for domestic students," Katehi said. "At the same time, the cost of what they pay in tuition is high enough to allow us to do all of those extra programs that we need for international students."

For Chinese who hope to enroll at UC Davis, the chancellor suggests networking through social media with fellow students already here, especially those from China, to overcome the language barrier and culture shock.

Katehi gave a personal example. She and her husband, both from Greece, had to work to fit in at the University of California, Los Angeles, when they arrived to study in 1979.

"We built good friendships with a Chinese student and an Indian student at UCLA, and we learned so many interesting things from our friends," she recalled. "We even learned about Chinese food and Indian food before we had enough of money to go to Indian or Chinese restaurants, because our friends cooked for us at home."