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Presidential Blog

Transforming Lives

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

TAIPEI — I often say that the most important task of the University of Washington is to transform lives—that the UW should have such an impact on our students, our colleagues, and our patients that their lives are changed in profoundly important ways. It was, therefore, with great pleasure that I listened to the story of UW alumnus William Cheng-Wang Huang. I first met Mr. Huang in Tokyo more than a year ago. He is a passionate Husky of tremendous accomplishment in Taiwan and throughout Asia. It was great fun to see him again because of his charming sense of humor and self-deprecating modesty, despite his extraordinary success. What I didn’t know about him was his UW story.Â

In the early 1950s, Mr. Huang determined that he should get a graduate degree. With very few resources, he left by boat, traveling two weeks from Japan, where he was at the time, to San Francisco, and then on to Seattle by train. He quickly found a job as a “house boy,” working for a local family. Like so many UW students then and now, he made ends meet, adding odd jobs, including as a gardener, while improving his English and studying for a master’s degree in economics. Mr. Huang’s memories are filled with the families and friends that helped him, the faculty who taught and encouraged him, and the affection for a university that changed his life.

And the UW experience did indeed change his life. Mr. Huang returned home and entered the business world. Today, he is head of the largest holding and venture capital firm in Taiwan, with interests in businesses as varied as automobile tires to yogurt. He is revered by his colleagues and by community leaders. Best of all, Mr. Huang is such a proud Husky that when it was time for his daughter to go to graduate school, she happily followed his trail to the UW (though she passed on the two-week boat ride).


“Blue House” to Dawg’s House

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

SEOUL — The official residence and executive office of the President of South Korea is affectionately referred to as the Blue House. The stunning structure sits against a green hillside surrounded by broad, inviting gardens, which in turn are surrounded by very uninviting stone walls. While not particularly blue, the Blue House is nonetheless a magnificent example of traditional Korean architecture. It is beautiful, elegant, and very impressive. I was delighted to join Governor Gregoire for an official visit with President Roh Moo-hyun. Given the seriousness of events in Korea, I was surprised, but pleased, that President Roh would meet with us. More than simply make time for us, the President was well briefed about the issues of the state of Washington and the programs of the University of Washington.

It was great fun to watch Governor Gregoire discuss agricultural trade issues with President Roh like a seasoned diplomat, using every opportunity to turn casual banter back toward issues important to our state. She was simply masterful (clearly the result of her UW education!). I was also impressed by the President’s understanding of our programs in Korean Studies and Asian Law and by his interest in deepening these relationships. It was a thoroughly pleasant and encouraging encounter.

As we left the President’s official meeting room, I was quickly reminded of the seriousness of our time. Coming up the grand staircase in the Blue House was a delegation of Russian diplomats. Then, as we waited in our car, the motorcade of the Russian Prime Minister came roaring into the Blue House driveway. We had been discussing issues of real importance to us: the sale of Washington produce and products and educational exchanges among our universities—important and serious issues, to be sure. But the next team coming in the door was there to consider nuclear disarmament and averting another war in Korea, or worse.

Gathering at the Ambassador’s residence

Tuesday ended with a reception and dinner at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, Alexander Vershbow. The evening was a celebration of Washington State and Korean connections. Representatives from major Washington businesses sponsored the standing room only affair. Many Korean academics came to mingle among business leaders and diplomats. I suspect the event was much like many others that occur at the Ambassador’s residence. But one fact distinguished this gathering from all the others: When Ambassador Vershbow gave his official remarks, a loud cheer rose from the crowd when he welcomed the University of Washington. He and the Governor were very impressed by the huge number of UW alumni that make up the business, political, and academic elite of Korea. For at least one evening, the Ambassador’s residence was the Dawg’s House.

Complexity and Contradiction

Monday, Oct. 16, 2006

SEOUL —  As I prepared for this trip to Korea, more than a few friends asked, “You’re not really going to Korea right now, are you?”  Their concern was fueled, of course, by the nuclear test in North Korea and the rising tensions over it.  I replied that, as a student of public policy and politics, this seemed like a perfect time to visit. I was right, but not for the reasons I thought.
It is easy to form an opinion of a new country after visiting for just a few days. That opinion is nearly always wrong — or at best incomplete.  Thus, my observations of Korea should be recognized for what they are — the first impressions of someone who benefits from traveling with wonderfully well informed faculty members and who are excited about the place.
A most remarkable place

Korea strikes me as a most remarkable place, with a history to match. Standing in the midst of the neon, glass and stainless steel pastiche that is the central business district of Seoul, it is hard to fathom that within my lifetime South Korea has transformed itself from one of the poorest countries on earth to one of the wealthiest; that this nation’s businesses successfully compete head-to-head in the most technologically challenging industries (computing, consumer electronics, telecommunications, automobiles) when 30 years ago much of today’s Seoul was still rice paddies; that this vibrant city can seem completely focused on “business as usual” when kilometers away the DMZ still stands as a poignant reminder that armed conflict would bring immediate ruin to the city.
My first impressions also make clear the great complexity and contradictions of this city.  Chatting with UW alumni reveals a clear generation gap when it comes to politics. The generation that remembers both the Korea of old and the Korean War tends to be conservative and staunchly pro-American. Young people much less so.

U.S.-Korean relationship is complicated

I asked individuals about a recent poll that suggested that the majority of Koreans felt that U.S. policies provoked the nuclear test in the North.  The replies — “Nonsense!” “Of course!” and “Maybe” — could be predicted by age as well as anything.

The relationship with the U.S. is complicated. There is still nothing as valuable in Korea as a degree from an American university. As a result, Korea leads all nations in sending students to the U.S., with increasing numbers coming for high school as well as college. Partnerships with American businesses and selling to American consumers are the greatest desires of many.  And people on the street are friendly and warm when dealing with us. On the other hand, there is great ambiguity about the American military presence and open concern about our foreign policy, including Iraq.  America and Americans are clearly held in high regard. American policies receive mixed, but strongly held, reviews.
Serious study and partnership are crucial to understanding

This, my first trip to Korea, has already served as a powerful reminder of why universities need to be fully engaged in international study and exchanges. It is simply impossible to grasp the fullness of this culture and its people without serious study and partnership. A few years ago, many people might have asked, “Why on earth does the UW bother studying the Middle East and Islam?” Some months ago, the same might have been asked about Korea. Today we know. The complexity of the world around us cannot be understood without extended study and exchanges. If we, as a nation, are to be successfully connected to the world, we need to go live in it. Korea makes that abundantly clear.

Delegation heads for Seoul

Mark Emmert

 I am part of a Washington state delegation on a seven-day mission to South Korea and Taiwan to promote Washington products and services. Gov. Christine Gregoire is heading the delegation, which includes business, agriculture and education representatives.

 Just like I did while in China this past summer, I hope to update my blog when time permits, so please check back often. To learn more about this trip, click here. (In case you missed my China posts, you can read them now by clicking on the China Trip link in the right column.)

2006 President’s Annual Address

VideoIn his annual address to the university community, UW President Mark Emmert reviews key issues and accomplishments from the past year and reports on efforts to ensure that the University is well positioned to meet the challenges of the future. The University’s commitment to providing a rich learning experience for an excellent and diverse student body is a focal point. Watch the video »

Sleepless in Sydney — World Cup fever

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.

Shanghai: a 21st century boomtown

Tuesday, June 20

If Beijing is a bustling, modern city, then Shanghai is an explosion of urban energy. The new skyline — nicely featured in Mission Impossible III — has emerged from what was literally a pasture and farmland the last time I was here.

To stand at the famous Bund and look across the river to this completely new cityscape is both amazing and dislocating. The architecture is a fusion of the contemporary, art deco and the Jetsons.

I cannot think of another city on earth today — or in history for that matter — that is changing so fast. The transformation of Berlin after German reunification has been very impressive. Shanghai’s development is mind-blowing.

The cultural and economic metamorphosis is just as amazing as the construction. My first visit here in 1989 revealed much of the old, drab past, including no shortage of older residents in Mao jackets and loudspeakers blaring political rhetoric. Today the city is electric with color and commerce. Indeed, the place and all its citizens seem to be constantly engaged in business and hustle. Shanghai is a 21st century boomtown in every way.

Government’s investment in infrastructure is astounding

Such transitions do not occur by accident, of course. While there is much to be concerned about regarding national policy here (more on this below), the government’s investment in infrastructure is astounding. With the combination of a commitment to a more market-oriented economy and massive international private-sector investment, the power of capitalism and government action is on full display.

Perhaps nowhere is the government’s investments more evident than at Fudan University. In the 15 years since I was last on this campus, the university has become wholly unrecognizable from the one I knew.

The capital construction projects would make any university president jealous.  But I was even more pleased with the highly sophisticated approach Fudan is now taking to international student and faculty exchanges. They understand their need for transnational engagement in a way that very few others do.

A beautiful campus, new buildings galore and an open, student-oriented approach to exchanges; it was all quite amazing to see.  It takes no imagination at all to see our students strolling these grounds, learning from new Chinese colleagues. What a truly different scene from the one I visited just months after the student unrest of 1989.Â

Disparity between rich and poor: an enormous challenge

Of course, no place is a utopia. Taking in the sights of Shanghai, it is easy to forget some of the great challenges facing this nation. At no time have more people — 300 million to 400 million — been lifted out of poverty and given a chance at real affluence in such a short span of time. For this, China can be very proud. However, this fact also means that 1 billion more residents have a long way to go.

The disparity between rich and poor is an enormous challenge. As the rural poor learn more of the riches of their urban cousins, they want more too. Interestingly, in a situation very familiar to most of us, manual labor on construction sites and domestic work in hotels and homes are being done by waves of poor rural immigrants, many arriving illegally. It seems urban residents don’t want these jobs. To simply keep pace with the need for new jobs to absorb the influx to urban centers, the economy must grow 7 percent annually, which is the highest rate for any nation.

Meanwhile, the expanding needs and demands for educational opportunities, health care, protection from environmental threats, new sources of energy, freer flows of information  and infrastructure in rural as well as urban areas grow as rapidly as everything else here.

Traffic – and you thought it was bad in Seattle!

Take one example: the impact of automobiles. In 1989, there were 13 million bicycles in the city. Movement by car was slowed not by automotive traffic jams, but by bicycle jams. Today the situation is completely reversed. Traffic is difficult at best. (After a day in a taxi in Shanghai, you will never again complain about Seattle traffic.). And here’s the rub: The Chinese are adding 400,000 new cars and drivers to the roads every year. The roads and the air simply cannot handle this rate of growth. Policy-makers are faced with some difficult choices to say the least.

Everything in China today seems to be happening faster and bigger than anywhere else, opportunities and challenges included. One UW alumnus living in Shanghai — and a great fan of China — described the situation nicely by saying, “Today China is skiing ahead of an avalanche.”  As long as they ski very fast, they’ll be OK. But the one thing they can’t afford to do is to fall down.


Educational change, UW volleyball and American cheeseburgers

Sunday, June 18

Summer has certainly arrived in Beijing, with 90-degree weather and uncommonly clear blue skies – the usual brown cloud of smog leaving at least for the weekend.  Streets and sidewalk shops and restaurants are jammed with families enjoying the bit of perfect weather.

Saturday also brought with it an opportunity to talk about the UW, China and higher education issues on CCTV, the national Chinese broadcasting system.
I was asked to participate in an English language show, called “Dialogue.”  The interviewer – China’s Diane Sawyer, I was told – was remarkably well informed about higher education issues and the University of Washington.

For the 30-minute show she grilled me on questions of tuition and affordability of a college education, expanding access for those in rural communities, and maintaining quality while supporting growing populations of students.

Once again the similarities between American and Chinese educational issues was apparent. But one striking differences leaps out to even the casual observer.  China is trying to compress generations of development and change into a handful of years. The rate and scale of change going on is simply staggering.

While we at the UW can change to holistic admissions by treating an  applicant as a unique individual, Chinese universities must deal with 9 million applicants every year!  We are concerned about integrating our two new campuses in Tacoma and Bothell with the Seattle campus, while Tsingjua University tries to coordinate over 100 satellite campuses with its Beijing campus.

The policy questions may be the same, but the scale and sense of urgency are strikingly different. One cannot help but be impressed by the fortitude and confidence that the Chinese leaders bring to these daunting tasks. And to recognize that they see themselves – rightly, I believe – in a race against time to solve social challenges before they are overwhelming.

Dinner with the Husky volleyball team

Among those learning about Chinese society and taking in the sights and sounds of this fascinating place are the Husky volleyball team and those UW supporters traveling with them.

I caught up with them Sunday night for dinner. In their first stop in China, they are 1 and 1 playing against skilled Beijing opponents. But the point of their trip is much more than athletic competition.

I was delighted to see this group of wonderful students relishing in all that China has to offer: historical sights, distinctive culture, plenty of local cuisine.

Like me, more than a few of them are ready for a great cheeseburger. And they will struggle to fit all their purchases in suitcases. But how fun to see them representing the UW to their Chinese hosts with the same energy and presence that brought them a national championship.

Digital communication has transformed our world and how we live in it

Friday, June 16

Today began and ended with two reminders of just how tightly connected our planet is becoming. First thing this morning, I discussed an issue on state policy with WSU President Lane Rawlins. Then as I rode back to the hotel from a late dinner this evening, I received comments on my first blog post during the trip from one of our UW students.

Nothing was unusual about the communications –  except where and when they took place: President Rawlins is roaming in South Africa, the student is studying in Munich and I am traveling around Beijing. Yet we communicated as easily as if we were in a meeting room together in Seattle.  What is most remarkable to me is that none of us gave this a second thought (at least I didn’t, until I started writing tonight).Â

The ease of travel and digital communication have made such interactions commonplace. And in turn, they have transformed our world and how we live in it. These transglobal connections were reinforced throughout my meetings today.

We have much to share with one other

With leaders of Peking and Tsinghua universities, as well as Education Ministry officials, I had engaging discussions about current and future collaborations between our faculties and students.

I was particularly interested to find that our hopes and concerns for our universities, our communities and our people are very similar.  The media tends to portray modern China as completely consumed with economic growth and commercialization.

To be sure, there is a remarkable amount of business development under way, but such matters were discussed little in our meetings. Instead, we talked about familiar topics:  providing affordable, accessible education for all our people; the thrill of pursuing scholarly discovery; the growing gap between rich and poor; high quality health care; sustainable urban development; addressing environmental degradation; preparing our students for global engagement.

There are certainly many differences between our universities and cultures, so we need to find distinctive solutions to our problems. But the commonalities are equally apparent, and we have much to share with one other.

It is for the U.S. and China to collaborate and engage with each other

My conversation in the afternoon with U.S. Ambassador Randt was also enlightening and positive. I, unwittingly and with some biases I am sure, anticipated hearing of a cautious, even concerned approach to U.S.-China relations. Instead, I heard just the opposite.

The ambassador spoke of the centrality of a vibrant and successful China to world peace and pointed out how critical it is for the U.S. and China to collaborate and engage with each other. His pleasure at seeing applications of Chinese students to American universities return to their pre-9/11 levels was apparent.

2008 Olympics: Beijing’s global coming out party

As for the city of Beijing, it is hardly recognizable from the place I first visited in 1989. While the boom times of China have focused mostly on Shanghai, Beijing is now fully in play as well. It has become a wonderfully vibrant and modern city.

Returning to the hotel tonight, we drove by the site of the 2008 Olympic village. With a huge stadium, gyms and housing complexes rising like mushrooms, it is an exciting sight.

I told one of my hosts that I suspect that the Olympics are going to be Beijing’s debut, a global coming out party. He clearly liked the idea.


Wednesday morning, June 14th

As I began my Asia trip in Hong Kong, I was reminded of my last visit here, nearly nine years ago. On that trip, I had the pleasure of attending an academic gathering to witness the transition of Hong Kong from British to Chinese oversight.

It was an exciting, historical moment, but I also recalled the obvious anxiety in the voices of many Hong Kong natives I met. Uncertainty about the future was muted by cautious optimism. Nonetheless, there was much concern about the direction Hong Kong would turn.

Throughout Wednesday’s meetings it quickly became apparent that Hong Kong has thrived under the “One Country – Two System” policy that was launched in 1997. There is a strong sense of confidence and energy about Hong Kong, and any sense of anxiety is long gone.

I especially enjoyed meeting UW alumni and friends who have become an integral part of the optimism and vibrancy of this exceptional place.

Alumni like Joseph Chan of Hutchison Global Communications, Mitchell Stocks from Latham and Watkins law firm, Lui Tong of Jilian’s Fashions, and hundreds more are engaged actively in the excitement of Hong Kong. When talking of this city-state’s future, they now share a vision of serving as the gateway to China, offering high-end financial, legal, and technical services and sourcing functions for the growing Chinese economy. It is thrilling to see so many Huskies actively shaping the future.

We will be posting photos soon that show we had a very successful alumni event, bringing together many Hong Kong alums for the first time. Lui Tong, as chair of the Hong Kong Alumni Association, did an absolutely wonderful job bringing this event off.

Through discussions with leaders of the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University, I learned more about the significant informal ties that already exist between their faculty and ours, and I heard about the high regard they already have for the UW because of those ties. It is certainly apparent that there are many opportunities for our faculty and students to work in partnership with these fine Hong Kong universities, something we agreed to pursue in the coming months.

I also was reminded that we have a long way to go to build the reputation and recognition of the UW. Too few of the business and government leaders — including U.S. State Department folks — know of the UW’s strengths or our position among research universities. The presence of dozens of American as well as international universities in Hong Kong makes for a crowded field. Advertisements for Australian universities run on local TV. We have to work hard to gain the international recognition that our faculty, students and staff have earned.