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Visit to Asian University for Women in Bangladesh

This week I have been in Bangladesh, which included some time in Dhaka to learn more about the founding of Bangladesh in 1971 and to be in the country for its National Day on March 26, and then to Asian University for Women in Chittagong, where we met as the Board of Trustees to learn more about their ongoing work developing women who can help lead the future of their countries. The women were very inspiring and included many of the most talented young women from Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and over a dozen other countries. We heard directly from the women in both the pre-undergraduate, undergraduate, and the new MA programs at AUW, and the stories of the women were inspiring, as was their drive and tenacity as they learned to be leaders, coders, and designers of the future of our world. I am proud to be able to help AUW as it plans for its new campus and adds new students, new majors and new degree programs.

AUW logo

Master Class on Global Citizenship for the Aspire Leaders Institute

Last month, I had the honor of teaching a master’s class at the Aspire Leadership Institute, founded by Harvard Business School professors Tarun Khanna and Karim Lakhani. The Aspire team also gave me a great overview of the program, which currently reaches thousands of future young leaders around the world, with their top countries, including India, Turkey, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Kenya. They hope to grow to reach 100,000 students in the coming years, and their program is open to any student between 18-29 years old who come from from lower income levels, and who are first-generation students to go to college.

Their curriculum features three modules: a four-week course on personal and professional development, a four-week immersive learning environment featuring master classes from top thought leaders and academics, a six-week horizons course that develops advanced leadership skills, and then students join a growing alumni network across the world. My contribution was a master class on global citizenship, which is included in an article in their newsletter and is featured on their website. The class reached nearly 1000 students from around the world, and I tried to connect these students with examples of global citizens who have shaped the world and helped promote peace and a deep understanding of our common humanity. The talk featured quotes from Diogenes, Rabindranath Tagore, Daisaku Ikena, Wanjira Mathai, Anthony Kwame Appiah, and others, and I look forward to contributing to their future cohorts with additional talks in the coming years. You can see that link here:

Visit to Universities in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia and Hong Kong book talk during Winter Break

During the first few weeks in January, I set up a trip to visit several excellent universities in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia – all reinventing higher education in the 21st Century in their own ways.

I first visited Shenzhen and saw the results of the InnoX project, which includes workshops in new forms of engineering education, including one offered by Olin College’s Jason Woddard. The InnoX project is a massive undertaking hoping to spark new companies in China’s “Greater Bay Area,” including Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Macao, and Guangdong, encompassing 71 million people.

The next stop was Hong Kong – where I visited the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and met with their staff working on innovation in teaching and learning. The meetings included Sean McMinn, Director of the HKUST Center for Education Innovation (who has prepared some amazing materials for faculty using AI), Winnie Leung from the Division of Integrative Systems and Design (who provided a tour of their vibrant maker space and reviewed their Olin-like engineering curriculum), and Alison Lloyd, Associate Provost of Institutional Research (who updated me on HKUST’s strategies).

Then, off to Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), one of our members of PALAC, where I met with Theresa Kwong, who directs HKBU’s Centre for Holistic Teaching and Learning. There. I gave a talk on our new book, the New Global Universities – Reinventing Higher Education in the 21st Century – and met with many of their faculty and had a great conversation about innovation in universities. Along the way, I had a wonderful visit with Thomas Schneider, who co-led the PALAC alliance with me and now directs the Association of Pacific Rim Universities.

Then, I went to Singapore, where I met with many old friends from Yale-NUS and met some amazing leaders of new institutions across Asia at the Yale-NUS liberal arts symposium. They also dedicated the performing arts hall as the new Yale-NUS Hall, which will be a lasting tribute to the vibrant and dynamic Yale-NUS College long after it has been absorbed by NUS and transformed into the NUS College.

Finally, I visited the new Asian School for Business (ASB) in Kuala Lumpur, a project in collaboration with Sloan MIT. ASB is currently being led by MIT’s Sanjay Sarma, who hosted me, gave me a great tour of Kuala Lumpur, and arranged meetings with his senior staff. I discussed the origins of the ASB with senior staff Joe Cherian and Zainon Mustaffa, and learned about the Action Learning programs from faculty members like Sangeeta Menon Matu. The institution was very inspiring and provides unique kinds of experiential learning within Malaysia for a cross-section of Asian students and business leaders.

The New Global Universities book published

Our new book, The New Global Universities – Reinventing Higher Education in the 21st Century, is now published by Princeton Press and available at bookstores and other vendors. The book has received a great reception so far at various book talks and among the press. My co-author, Noah Pickus, and I are very grateful to all who supported us in writing and researching the book and who are now helping us with the various book talks. Our schedule for the new year includes book talks at the Harvard COOP book store in late January, a panel discussion at the American Association of Colleges and Universities in Washington, DC, and many other events for the upcoming year. We were also thrilled to have our book named on a list of the best higher education books of 2023 by Forbes Magazine.

Before the holidays, I was able to join Michael Horn (Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor), Nina Marini (co-founder of Ashesi University in Ghana), and Mallory Dwinal-Palish (founder of Reach University) in the closing keynote for the NECHE annual meeting in Boston. The session featured a conversation about reinventing higher education for the 21st century, moderated by Micahel Horn. It provided a chance to share with the New England Commission of Higher Education some thoughts about new universities’ roles in the higher education ecosystem and what lessons we can learn from them in their innovations, institutional culture, and leadership.

I have included a few photos from the event and am grateful to Larry Schall, the NEHE president, and Michael Horn for their help in bringing the session together. You can see from the photos that our panel had a great conversation, and I look forward to working with this great group in the future!

Our group talking before the panel
My chance to share thoughts about the unique nature of the “startup” university and its value.
Some great questions from MIcahel Horn
Nina Marini and me talking with Larry Schall after the event.

Models of Time and Space Book published

Models of Time and Space from Astrophysics and World Cultures

The Foundations of Astrophysical Reality from Across the Centuries

My new astronomy book, entitled Models of Time and Space from Astrophysics and World Cultures has been published by Springer Inc. It is a popular book on physics and astronomy, and documents the ways that human cultures across the centuries mapped and explored our earth, the skies and the universe. It starts with celestial navigation and star maps and continues onwards to innovations that enabled astronomers to unlock the three-dimensional structure of space and map the most distant galaxies using modern telescopes like the JWST. The book also looks at the advances of science in the 19th and 20th centuries that enabled the development of particle physics and quantum mechanics, culminating in the CERN Large Hadron Collider and the discovery of the Higgs Boson. Along the way, the development of relativity and the notions of space-time and light cones expanded our notions of space and time to encompass both the smallest and largest physical dimensions but also the earliest times and the ultimate fate of the universe. New results from the JWST are described, as well as the latest discoveries from particle physics. The book explores these topics and more – including conceptions of time, space, and the vacuum from a wide variety of cultures. The book describes how time and space are visualized by diverse cultures, and includes Aboriginal Australian, Polynesian and Hawaiian, Native American, neo-Confucian, and Buddhist perspectives.

The book is available from the publisher at this link:

And can be found at Amazon here:

Our Book – The New Global Universities

With my co-author Noah Pickus, we have written a new book entitled The New Global Universities – Reinventing Higher Education for the 21st Century (Princeton). The book is now available for pre-order, and includes detailed accounts of the founding of eight global universities that include Yale-NUS College (Singapore), Olin College of Engineering, Ashesi University (Ghana), Fulbright University Vietnam, NYU Abu Dhabi, Minerva University, Ashoka University (India) and African Leadership University. I will post more about the book later, but we are excited to have written this book, which offers many lessons in leadership, academic culture formation, and the ways in which new universities can help model new types of higher education that could be templates for future universities. When Noah was working to launch Duke Kunshan University and I was part of the team launching Yale-NUS College, we experienced firsthand the excitement of having the opportunity to design a curriculum and an institution from the ground up. We know that readers will find these stories interesting and informative and look forward to the book being out in about a month!

Academic Communities and Liberal Arts

The value of liberal arts in Asia and educational partnerships has been questioned in recent weeks in many articles, partly triggered by the closure of Yale-NUS College. I was interviewed for an article in Diverse, which explored US-Asia partnerships. In that interview I stressed the key importance of liberal arts as academic communities, which include deep networks of connection and shared values, are crucial for producing academic freedom and excellence in undergraduate education. Many who have weighed in on these ventures have missed this crucial factor and make the error of thinking of a liberal arts institution as a set of courses and FTE faculty lines that can be rearranged and reorganized, or “merged,” without damaging or shattering these relationships that together build an academic culture and community.

The academic community and its deep relationships provide the essential ingredients of excellence in liberal arts colleges around the world. From the faculty side, deep relationships enable the creation of an academic culture that prizes academic freedom and collaboration and places undergraduate education at the center of the enterprise. These deep relationships provide the underpinning of trust that is necessary for faculty to fully partake in the governance and in managing the curriculum. The collaboration between faculty and between faculty and students is the process by which the excellence of the liberal arts college is built, partly through the collaborative process of building a curriculum, and students are able through deep relationships to fully explore their identities and capacities as they fully develop their talents.

As I said in the article, the idea of Yale-NUS being closed solely based on NUS saving money or being motivated by limiting academic freedom is incorrect and oversimplifies the situation. My main quote pointed out that closing Yale-NUS, regardless of motivations, is “definitely a loss” since “any institution is ultimately more than a bunch of courses and faculty lines. It’s a set of shared values. It’s a set of relationships. All of that is being shattered.” In the case of Yale-NUS, I also pointed out the success of Yale-NUS that can be seen through all the major indicators used for gauging institutional effectiveness. The students they were attracting were the best in the world, and students were being accepted to the top PhD programs in the world, garnering Rhodes and Schwarzman Scholarships, and were eagerly sought after by Singapore’s employers.

As all of our institutions move forward and reflect on the value of the liberal arts, I hope that we can stay focused on the main component of value of such institutions. These institutions create value from deep connections between all of the members of the community, faculty, students and staff, and these connections build the shared values, trust and respect that make such institutions distinctive and effective. The excellence of liberal arts colleges comes from a process that liberates students to develop their full capacities as individuals. Such institutions are important as they can build a happier and more meaningful life for students, and (yes) make them more resourceful, creative, communicative and collaborative employees.

The Future of Higher Education in Hong Kong

With the new National Security Law, universities in Hong Kong are on edge and trying to establish a new equilibrium. It remains to be seen longer term how these changes will affect the many excellent universities in Hong Kong. With John Douglass of UC Berkeley, I have published an article in the University World News entitled, “What is the fate of Hong Kong’s Universities under Xi?” which explores these issues. It is based on a modified version of our chapter about Hong Kong and Singapore in our book Neo-Nationalism and Universities, published by JHU Press.

CSHE Discussion on China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Russia

On Wednesday, October 20, 2021, at 11AM PDT, the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley, has convened an online webinar to discuss higher education in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Russia. The discussion is based on our several chapters with our new book: Neo-Nationalism and Universities: Populists, Autocrats and the Future of Higher Education. The book, edited by John Douglass of UC Berkeley includes chapters on academic freedom and higher education in all of these countries. My chapter is co-authored with John Douglass, and we will be discussing the issues in each of the four countries during our webinar. The panel includes Karen Fischer from the Chronicle of Higher Education, John Douglass and Igor Chirikov from UC Berkeley, and myself.

You can register for the webinar at the link below:

The Pacific Alliance of Liberal Arts

Our new article which is entitled “After Yale-NUS Closure, liberal arts in Asia will benefit from Peer Support” has just appeared in Times Higher Education. We provide a strong argument for liberal arts education in the piece, and note that closing Yale-NUS College has squandered the hard work of many top scholars from Yale UniversityNational University of Singapore and the many Yale-NUS faculty who have worked over many years to create the vibrant intellectual cultures of Yale-NUS College and also the USP. The “merging” of these institutions is a huge loss. We are starting a new Pacific Alliance of Liberal Arts Colleges (PALAC) to foster greater awareness of the power of liberal arts education. This new PALAC group will bring top liberal arts programs from the US, Canada, China, and other Asia/Pacific countries to foster collaborative research, curriculum development and faculty and student dialogs on the most urgent issues facing our planet. The Alliance also can play a key role in advocating for liberal arts, and articulating a global vision of liberal arts that prepares students to help solve global grand challenges and to make progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). 

Our group will work together to help bring greater appreciation of the power for liberal arts education to build creativity, communication and cognitive agility in students. These skills are ever more vital as the exponential technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution accelerate change and bring entirely new industries together that can reshape our planet. Training students in liberal arts skills will allow them to contribute and to lead in these developments to help shape this development in ways that foster a greater sense of humanity and sustainability.

The other facet of liberal arts education is that it is effective not only for building skills in thinking and communication but for building deep skills in traditional disciplines from the beginning of an undergraduate’s career. The intense mentoring and interactive classrooms within liberal arts campuses enable students to inquire and grow develop their talents fully. A liberal arts college focuses on undergraduate education as its primary mission, and students benefit from this simpler mission undiluted by the quest for national research rankings, NCAA football titles, and the many other aspects of the larger R1 universities that can dilute their abilities to develop a student to their full capacity. A quote from the THE article illustrates the ways that liberal arts colleges have been effective:

Acceptance of the liberal arts model among Asian parents and prospective students has been driven by data showing how effective it is at preparing students for careers in business, science and other fields. In his 2011 book Liberal Arts at the Brink, Victor Ferrall notes that 12 of the 53 Nobel prizewinners between 1999 and 2008 who received their undergraduate education at a US college or university received it at a liberal arts college. This is all the more remarkable given that less than 2 per cent of US undergraduates study at a liberal arts college.

Such institutions’ ability to punch above their weight is underlined by a 2016 article in Nature, which noted that the top 10 institutions for producing Nobel Prizes per capita include two US liberal arts colleges, Swarthmore College and Amherst College. And National Science Foundation figures indicate that liberal arts colleges accounted for 27 of the top 50 sources of science and engineering doctorates per capita between 2002 and 2011.