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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 10:15, February 12, 2006
"Yale's less global than I thought it could be", President
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Photo:Richard Levin (R), President of Yale University, with People's Daily Online Washington-based correspondent Tang Yong in his office.
Richard Levin (R), President of Yale University, with People's Daily Online Washington-based correspondent Tang Yong in his office.
Tang: You have been Yale President for 13 years. Your goal is to make Yale a global university. But in my eyes Yale is global already. Why do you still want Yale to be more global?

Levin: Yale may have a global reputation. But when I became Yale President, I didn't think Yale is educating as many foreign students as it should be. 12 years ago only 2% of our undergraduate students came from outside US and Canada. Today it is 8%. So there are areas in which Yale is less global than I thought it could be. Our new aspiration is to make sure every undergraduate student has some kind of overseas experience during his or her four year long studies.

Tang: Building a top university needs time and money. But if I were Bill Gates, I would set up a private university and invest heavily in getting the best faculty and building the best infrastructure. Do you think Bill Gates could succeed in creating a university of Yale caliber?

Levin: Could he? It will take a lot of money to start from nowhere. It takes time to recruit first class faculty and resources. I would never say it is impossible for Gates to set up a top university from scratch. The University of Stanford and the University of Chicago are only 100 years old. I think it can be done. It is obviously also one of China's aspirations.

Tang: Yale's undergraduate programs are one of the best in America. But at the same time Yale is a research university. How does Yale balance teaching and research?

Levin: Yale is unique among the top research universities in that we also require all of our faculty from the arts and sciences to teach courses and not only to teach advanced graduate students, but to teach Yale undergraduates.

Tang: Jennifer Washburn, an American education expert, recently published a book entitled The Corporate Corruption of American Higher Education. The title is very sensational, isn't it? The book argues that commercial forces have quietly transformed virtually every aspect of academic life. Many problems occur accordingly in elite universities: Students rate their teachers poorly; Teaching is neglected while research overemphasized; Non-faculty employees are too many; Top and tenure professors are overpaid; Faculty members becoming too old. How do you think of those problems? Is the writer exaggerating?

Levin:I do believe Ms. Washburn is exaggerating but there is a kernal of truth in what she says. The challenge for me as a university president is to ensure that teaching is not neglected, that research continues to thrive, and that students continue to be challenged by their professors.

Tang: What is the standard of employment and promotion for Yale faculty? It depends on how many scholarly papers he has published or how much welcome he receives from his students?

Levin: Yale faculties are selected because they are at the top of their field in their respective research areas. We have very rigorous standards to the quality of their research. Teaching matters. All professors here are required to teach. But for final decision of tenure, research is a more important factor. There are many many good teachers but only a few people could be among the world's leaders in their field. Our standard of promotion for full professor is that you must be among the world's leaders in your field.

Tang: How much do Yale professors earn? Do they need to moonlight to make extra money?

Levin: Our professors all get paid well so they don't need outside job to support their life.

Tang: What is the most unique thing about Yale's liberal education compared to other Ivy League institutions?

Levin: I think the best way to describe Yale is that it has the resources of a large university with the feel of a small college. Students have the benefit of living in the very intimate setting of small residential colleges, but they have the vast resources and collections of a large research university at their fingertips. Additionally, one of Yale's major strengths is, due to its size, it is able to create substantial inter-disciplinary programs of study thus giving Yale students- undergraduate, graduate and professional - the benefit of the "whole" Yale.

Tang: There are so many top universities in America. What are the relations between Yale and other Ivy League Schools or other top schools? How do you compete with them?

Levin: The competition is very tense, not only in athletics fields (laugh) but also in attracting best students and best faculty. Whenever Yale is recruiting faculty, there is always competition from top ten universities.

Tang: So professors can make a good bargain.

Levin: Yeah, that is right. The top talent is a great demand.

Tang: What are the most difficult thing and the happiest moment as Yale President?

Levin: The most difficult part of my job is finding time to do everything that I want to get done. The happiest moments are when I have some quiet time with my wonderful family.

Tang: I know you were an excellent scholar. But since you became Yale President, you have not taught any Master or PHD students. No major research projects are under your name. You did publish a book entitled The Work of The University but it is a non-academic book by any standard. You are different from most Chinese university presidents who are still busy with their research. Do you feel it is a pity you are no longer a scholar?

Levin: No, it is worthwhile. There are many works for Yale President. I have achieved a lot and I have made great progress over the last 13 years.

Tang: Do you have any personal hobby?

Levin: I hardly have any. I just don't have enough spare time. But every year my wife and I will take a major hike trip in the outskirts of Europe.

Part I    Part II

By Tang Yong, People's Daily Online Washington-based correspondent

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