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EDUCATION: An exploration of ideas, issues and trends

Diverse Student Body Brings the World Closer

January 28, 1998

Foreign students--and money--play a significant role on many American campuses. UCLA recently rejected a $1-million gift from the Turkish government for a professorship, worried there were strings attached. USC, with one of the largest international enrollments, this month considered ways to help students from Asia in the wake of that region's economic crisis. And in a talk on the USC campus this past weekend--before his school's alumni from Southern California--Harvard University President Neil L. Rudenstine touted the benefits of having a student body from all over the world. Here are excerpts:

The world has yet once again shrunk. We now have instantaneous satellite and other communications . . . I just looked at the headlines in the papers. . . . First of all there's the Asian economic crisis and whether and in what ways we are connected to it. . . . There's Netanyahu's visit to Washington, followed by Mr. Arafat's. . . . There's Iraq with the U.N weapons inspectors. . . . There's even a flu epidemic in Hong Kong we're all worried about.

So during these last few years . . . Harvard has been really first of all crafting an international agenda, trying to assess what it should be doing. . . . Give you a few examples: The government of Saudi Arabia gave us the $5-million endowment to establish an Islamic law center at the Harvard Law School. When this was offered, naturally we asked why they wanted to do [it]. And the answer was, interestingly, 'We feel Islamic law is so important that it ought to be able to be studied and questioned and looked at by scholars of different persuasions and different religions in a place where it could be openly done . . . on, if you will, neutral territory.' . . . That's an enormously inspiring example, I think, of how important it is to have these studies but also to have them in a place where they can be looked at critically, which is of course not the case in many, many, many parts of the world.

The Korea Foundation gave us $6 million to endow another professorship and scholarships and fellowships in the Korea Institute that we have. . . . Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong are working to create an Asian Center that will be a sort of umbrella for studies of the whole region. David Rockefeller gave us a wonderful gift to found the new Center for Latin American Studies. . . . The Russian Research Center had a similar endowment gift. European Studies program has had one and the Center for International Affairs has been been given $21 million to underwrite its worldwide activities sending fellows abroad [and] inviting people here . . .

The whole international agenda is being moved forward. . . . One piece of it has to do with our students and our faculty's ability to get abroad. . . . This is one of the most open--if not the most open--moment in all of remembered history for being able to have access to archives and people and to all sorts of things in countries that for generations, if not centuries, were virtually closed. You can now go to China. You can now go to Korea. You can now go to places in Africa, and you can now go to many countries in Latin America and you can look at archives that were simply closed even 10 years ago. . . . So we can actually in a sense update, reinterpret and think hard again about the history that we . . . have been writing about for the last hundred years.

The second thing of course is we want to bring people to Harvard. At the moment, out of our 18,500 students, about 2,700 full-time degree students . . . are from abroad . . . about a thousand students from Asia, about 750 from Europe, more than 300 from Latin America . . . allow[ing] our students and their students, our faculty and their faculty, to get to know one another. . . . If there's any long-run hope for the human race getting on, as it were, without continual conflict . . . part of the answer lies in building exactly these kind of relationships.


Harvard has eight powerful professional schools, as well as the graduate school in arts and sciences, capable of doing just that sort of thing. We now have programs every year from literally dozens and dozens of countries--sometimes people from other countries fitting into the programs we normally run and sometimes custom-tailoring programs for them. For the last five years, for example, at the Kennedy School we've had 20 Russian admirals and generals come for two weeks in the fall. . . . We bring military officers from Washington. We bring congressional people. We have our faculty there. We have obviously some of our students. And for two weeks, they go at it hammer and tongs about the political situation, the economic situation, the military situation, security issues--you name it. And they disagree sometimes, but they sometimes find surprisingly they do agree. And at the end of the two weeks you can bet that . . . a lot of American generals and admirals know a lot of Russian generals and admirals in a way they didn't know before.

[Chinese President Jiang Zemin] was discouraged from coming [by people] who thought that, you know, you'll find protesters at Harvard. It could be a big embarrassment. [But] he was determined to come [and] it was clear that he was impressed by the fact that you could have a university where people were protesting, on both sides, or as far as I know maybe five sides . . . [and] all this could happen simultaneously without the institution, as it were, falling apart or . . . having to intervene in any type of forceful way.

He knew there were going to be questions and he was going to have to answer. . . . When we were down in the smaller room before the lecture, he said to me, "Now I have to see if I can pass a Harvard examination."

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