- Published on May 27, 2008
The political scientist thought it sounded similar to a model he?d done showing how leaders try and sometimes fail to recruit people to social movements and wondered if the same mathematical model might fit. They tried it and discovered findings neither could have found alone.
?I love that story because it?s the perfect example of academic freedom and of critical mass,? U-M Provost Teresa Sullivan told a high-level delegation of 22 Chinese university officials spending two weeks in Michigan learning about U.S. higher education. ?No administrator would have told a political scientist to work on cancer. It just happened naturally.
?They came together because we have academic freedom and a big enough critical mass of talented faculty where smart people can connect and take ideas to the next level.?
More than 128 years after U-M President James Angell visited China to forge two major treaties between the two nations, U-M President Mary Sue Coleman, Sullivan and U-M administrators hosted Chinese education officials from 18 universities May 11-25.
The Michigan-China Leadership Forum was designed to share information about the principles and practices of American higher education, from academic freedom and the tenure system, to fundraising and research management.
In addition to the forum exchanges on the U-M campus, the delegation also visited Chicago, Detroit, the state capital and met with U-M?s two University Research Corridor partners, Michigan State University and Wayne State University.
The Chinese officials shared valuable insights based on the unprecedented reformation of higher education occurring in China. The number of college students earning degrees in China quadrupled from 830,000 in 1999 to 3.1 million in 2005 as overall enrollments topped 5 million. At the same time, the number of Chinese citizens enrolling in U.S. universities continues to grow, rising more than 8 percent between 2005-06 and 2006-07.
A National Bureau of Economic Research Report found China is the fourth largest producer of scientific output as measured by a world total of peer-reviewed scientific articles, trailing the United States, European Union and Japan. While the United States produced 32.8 percent of those articles compared to 6 percent for China, China?s output doubled in less than 10 years while the other top three declined.
Organized and directed by Constance Cook, U-M associate vice provost for academic affairs and executive director of U-M?s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, the exchange took months to plan. Cook said the relationships developed and lessons learned during the visit greatly strengthen U-M?s and the URC?s reputations in China, opening doors for future partnerships, investments and exchanges.
Repeatedly, the Chinese officials asked how U-M officials manage relationships, resources and goals within a decentralized administration where money and ideas tend to come from the bottom up. University officials explained how incentive-based budgeting and pushing decisions down to the lowest possible level empowers and improves the entire system, sending good ideas upward.
When asked how she works with her fellow executive officers when each of them reports to the president, Sullivan explained: ?We?re like the fingers on a hand. We have to work together.??
Coleman told the delegation the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, designed to make the United States competitive with other nations, transformed U.S. higher education by giving intellectual property rights to universities, and by encouraging faculty to become more entrepreneurial and file more patents to develop new innovations.
?We have new procedures to help faculty start their own businesses, we just opened a Business Engagement Center to better work with business and we?ve developed the University Research Corridor to take the intellectual assets of U-M, Michigan State University and Wayne State University to get each of us to interact, to get tech transfer involved, to stimulate the economy by working together,? Coleman said.
Coleman visited China in 2005 and created a joint institute with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, as well as several other shared degree and research collaborations. Other exchanges here and in China followed including the hosting of a major forum that brought a large delegation of Chinese university presidents to U-M in 2006.
At the same time, U-M?s Bentley Historical Library is mounting a new exhibit on the main floor of the Michigan Union based on its publication on the long relationship, ?The University of Michigan and China: 1845-2008.?? The exhibit runs through June 30.
This year?s Michigan-China Leadership Forum was designed to enhance Michigan's position in the global higher education network, strengthen Michigan's ties with a new generation of higher education leadership in the world 's largest market and provide the means for the URC institutions to give their faculty and students greater access to China's academic and business communities.
Other topics discussed included how to better contribute to the economies of regions and communities, how to expand collaborations with industry and other external partners, research, strategic planning and governance, educating students, and hiring, developing and evaluating faculty.
URC and Chinese leaders complete high-level talks, exchanges >