Office of the President

June 23, 2006

Sleepless in Sydney — World Cup fever

Office of the President

Friday, June 23 (Down Under, Thursday in Seattle)

Since the U.S. soccer team had already been eliminated from World Cup play and since I had been in Australia for all of 12 hours or so, it only made sense to change allegiances. Besides, how can you resist cheering for a team that calls itself the “Socceroos?” What I didn’t consider before making the mental commitment to support the Aussies was just when they were to play Croatia: 5 a.m. Sydney time.Â

Nonetheless, 4:30 a.m. was announced by chanting crowds in the streets. Since sleep was no longer an option, I decided to join them and walked in the dark down to the wharf (or Quay, as they call it). Custom Square, in front of the historic Sydney Customs House, was equipped with a huge outdoor TV screen and jammed with thousands of fans. Most stood on crates or each others’ shoulders, and many had clearly not slept, the pubs ringing the square having stayed open late. Nobody cared that it was cold and drizzling, the first week of winter.

The atmosphere would be familiar to anyone who has attended a Seahawks Super Bowl party or cheered the Huskies in the Sweet 16. And when the Socceroos scored a second goal to make the game a draw — what they needed to advance to the next round — all of Australia erupted.

By the end of the day’s meetings, I was having trouble keeping my eyes open. But I certainly was glad I’d dragged myself out of bed this morning. It was great fun and again reminded me of the bonding experience that comes so easily from sports competition.

University and business relationships in a global economy

The World Cup behind me, I went off to the breakfast meeting of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities. This 10-year-old organization brings together the presidents of the 36 best-known research universities that ring the Pacific. The meeting had the feel of a UN session as members from Chile, Malaysia, China and the U.S. sat at my breakfast table.

The day’s conversations focused on the relationships between research universities and business and industry in a global economy. Leaders from Merck, Samsung and an American energy company offered their views on how their multi-national companies interact with universities and what the business world wants from us.

The talks were interesting, but largely predictable. At one point, a business leader was talking about the well-known facts surrounding the very low, and declining, number of Americans and Australians who are studying science and engineering, a well-worn subject that we all worry about. Then a president from Australia asked a wonderfully irreverent question. In so many words, he said, “Why do you care what country scientists and engineers come from as long as you can hire them?” His point was fascinating, and it caught many of us off guard.

He was begging a remarkable important if simple question. If we are moving into a truly global economy and if we want easier movement of people among corporations and nations, does it matter if one country produces most of the engineers, while another specializes in business leaders, and a third educates the most creative artists and designers? Can nations build upon their distinctive cultural characteristics and focus educational experiences on what they do best?Â

This notion of educational and cultural “specialization” makes me very uncomfortable, to say the least. My reaction is surely tinged with chauvinism — after all, I want America to produce the best in all fields and skills. But my Australian colleague’s question certainly drew out some issues in stark relief. The interests of multi-national companies are not necessarily the same as the interests of any one nation. And while all of us at this meeting take personal pride in being “international,” we have one other thing in common: We all want our home team to win.