Just last month, the University of California at Berkeley announced plans to open a large teaching and research center in Shanghai as part of a broader presence in China. Duke, Stanford, and New York Universities all plan campuses in China as well. Recently, Yale University outlined plans for a campus in Singapore. And Carnegie Mellon University announced that it would start one in Rwanda.
Those are just the latest examples of American colleges expanding out into a world that, as the American Council on Education put in a November report, "increasingly operates across sovereign borders. Just as countries have become more interconnected worldwide, so, too, have colleges and universities."
Campuses Abroad: Promise and Perils
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But that interconnectedness has been controversial for American branch campuses in countries with records of oppressive governance, human-rights violations, and curtailment of academic freedom.
The ACE report recommends "balancing pragmatism with idealism" in dealing with "the reality that societies can view even fundamental rights differently."
But the American Association of University Professors warned in 2009 that "as the U.S. and Canadian presence in higher education grows in countries marked by authoritarian rule, basic principles of academic freedom, collegial governance, and nondiscrimination are less likely to be observed. In a host environment where free speech is constrained, if not proscribed, faculty will censor themselves, and the cause of authentic liberal education, to the extent it can exist in such situations, will suffer."
This year, academics worldwide called on New York University, the Louvre, the Guggenheim Museum, and other institutions that are building campuses in the United Arab Emirates to condemn the arrest of an economics lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of the Sorbonne after he had pressed for judicial and financial reforms; he is still in prison. Some faculty at Yale have objected to the Singapore venture, arguing that an authoritarian regime cannot respect American academic values.
Are such objections valid? Are they outweighed by the social and democratic impact that foreign campuses might have on their partner countries? Do the economic benefits of competing in a growing global academic marketplace outweigh the moral and political perils?
We asked a select group of leading thinkers to comment on the ethics and finances of American branch campuses abroad. Here are their thoughts.