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China today:  Westminster College takes the liberal arts message to the largest country on earth

From November 5-15, I had the good fortune to travel to China to

 Kurt Jefferson and Dr Pat Kirby of WC at Tian'anmen Gate in Beijing (Sunday, Nov 7, 2010)
Kurt Jefferson and Dr Pat Kirby of WC at Tian'anmen Gate in Beijing (Sunday, Nov 7, 2010)
help “engage the world.”  In doing so, I represented Westminster College, along with my colleague, Dr. Pat Kirby, in doing several things in that historical land.  Dr. Kirby, the Coordinator of International Student Recruitment at Westminster, was in China to interact with high schools, counselors, and students who might be interested in attending Westminster.  I went to several high schools with him and even, on occasion, helped “sell” Westminster to the Chinese students and parents. 

As we were making our way around China, Dr. Kirby and I realized that we were one of the first small American liberal arts colleges to penetrate the Chinese market.  Most students and parents had never heard of the idea of “liberal arts.”  They were used to large universities with tens of thousands of students.  Dr. Kirby and I taught Chinese students, educators, government officials, and others about the uniquely American concept of the “small liberal arts college.”  This was an interesting challenge and it proved to be a fascinating experience in cultural perception and misperception.  Most relatively large Chinese cities (with populations of 5 million plus) have 20-30 universities and most of these institutions are like our regional or major research universities.  The idea of a small residential college of 1000-2000 students is unheard of in China.  So, Dr. Kirby and I had our work cut out for us, but we found the response to be positive and intriguing for many Chinese families. 

I was sent by the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, Dr. Caro lyn Perry, to help develop future collaborative efforts between Westminster and Chinese high schools and universities in figuring out ways to deliver Westminster educational and high quality services to the Chinese.  This may eventually include courses by Westminster faculty in China at Chinese high schools and universities, Westminster on-line courses for Chinese high school and college students, and other collaborative efforts such as an education conference on the Westminster campus

 Kurt Jefferson and President Liu of Beijing Union University
Kurt Jefferson and President Liu of Beijing Union University after diplomatic negotiations upon the agreement to begin the Memorandum of Understanding between Beijing Union U. and Westminster College.  BUU began in 1978 (when several universities were consolidated by the government to form BUU).
in the Spring of 2011 with municipal education officials from cities in China engaging Westminster faculty/staff/administration and Missouri state leaders.  In the summer 2011, a summer leadership academy is being developed for Chinese high school students on the Westminster campus. 

These partnerships and collaborative efforts represent the globalization of higher education in a way that was unknown even 10-15 years ago in most American college or university contexts. Although the globalization of higher education is not new, the idea that a small American liberal arts college, like Westminster, would be engaging the People’s Republic of China is truly amazing. China is a 4000 year-old civilization and was closed to the United States from 1949-73.  It really did not open up economically and politically until after the death of its Communist revolutionary leader, Mao Zedong, in 1976; and, even then, it was not until the early 1980s that real progress in Sino-American relations occurred.  Today, China has nearly $2.7 trillion in currency reserves and is the second most powerful economy on the planet.  There are more billionaires and millionaires in China than any other country in the world.  While Dr. Kirby and I were in China,  Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, was there too and he was quoted in the Chinese media as saying that his company, which has 800 stores in 31 cities in China, will soon open a global coffee bean farm in Yunnan province and it will have 1000 stores in the next few years in China.  The growth in almost all sectors of economy and society in China is staggering.  Certainly, as a political scientist, I understand that Chinese state is not perfect in terms of recent actions related to individual freedoms and other related issues.  But, Westminster’s constructive and active engagement with China is a step in the right direction and it has helped start a dialogue among education leaders in both countries that will benefit much both nations, and it will certainly benefit Westminster College.

Thus, Westminster has a unique opportunity in China.  Currently, out of 185 international students, 12 are Chinese.  We will see more coming to Fulton next fall and the collaboration Westminster is creating with the Chinese will continue to grow.  The Chinese Communist Party leadership in Beijing has said that it wants its young people to have more opportunities for a Western education.  Thus, we are engaging the Chinese on the mainland at a perfect time as we explore ways of getting American and international students to China and more Chinese students to the United States.  Working with universities in Beijing, such as Beijing Union University, may yield opportunities for faculty to educate (in English) a new generation of Chinese looking to their future as a growing, developed nation with much to contribute to the global dialogue.  It’s an exciting time to be at Westminster as we “engage the world.”   Sir Winston Churchill once recognized an Iron Curtain across the European continent here in 1946 at Westminster; but, he would be amazed to see global East (China) and West (United States) in friendship and co-habitation as it is playing out at Westminster College.

Kurt W. Jefferson, PhD
Director, Center for Engaging the World
Professor and Chair, Department Political Science,
Transnational Studies Program, and
International Studies Program
Churchill Institute at Westminster College
November 2010

 Kurt Jefferson at the Tian'anmen Gate in Beijing (note Chairman Mao portrait) (Sun, Nov 7, 2010)   The Forbidden City 
Kurt Jefferson at the Tian'anmen Gate in Beijing (note Chairman Mao portrait) (Sun, Nov 7, 2010).   The Forbidden City (opened in 1925 to the public by the Nationalists and where Chairman Mao lived briefly after 1949); home of ancient Chinese emperors for 800 years.
Kurt Jefferson with Chinese People's Liberation Army soldiers    The Bejing Olympic Stadium (Bird’s Nest) from 2008 Summer Olympic games.
Kurt Jefferson with Chinese People's Liberation Army soldiers at the Great Wall of China north of Beijing! All of these soldiers were ending their two years of military service this week and were given one day furlough at the Great Wall!    The Bejing Olympic Stadium (Bird’s Nest) from 2008 Summer Olympic games.

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