The Perils of Foreign Entanglement and Money

Michael Clough is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a research associate at the Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The University of California may soon have to appoint its own secretary of state.

Like many U.S. institutions, the nine-campus university system is being "globalized," enmeshed in a rapidly expanding web of international connections spun by student and faculty exchanges, research projects, institutional partnerships and fund-raising. As a result, UC leaders face challenges and opportunities far more complicated and politically sensitive than they ever have in the past.

One example of this changing reality is a controversy at UC Berkeley over a possible $3-million grant from a Taiwanese foundation named for former Taiwan leader Chiang Ching-kuo. To win the grant, the university would have to name a center for Chinese studies after Chiang. This stipulation has sparked opposition from some faculty members, who are morally uncomfortable with Chiang's role in government before he oversaw his country's transition to democracy.

But there are broader concerns. The grant is perceived as part of Taiwan's campaign to gain international recognition and, coupled with $15 million it has already committed to an East Asian studies library, might be used as a lever to influence university research on China. There is the added risk that accepting the grant could complicate UC Berkeley's relations with the Chinese government in Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, and imperil exchange and research programs in mainland China.

The controversy probably would have escaped public attention had it not coincided with a political brouhaha over questionable Asian campaign contributions to President Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party. But it would be a mistake to treat it as an isolated event. Indeed, it is symptomatic of the kinds of issues that are likely to arise as UC's global connections multiply.

The university has a long history of international ties. It has always been one of the main U.S. hosts of foreign students and scholars. Its Education Abroad Program (EAP), with about 1,700 students studying in 33 countries, is the largest and most well-respected program of its kind in the country. In the past, however, this and other UC international programs have been largely incidental to its broader academic mission. No longer.

If UC is to retain its status as a premier university system, it will have to further expand opportunities for its students to study abroad and provide reciprocal arrangements for foreign students and scholars here. It will have to develop more partnerships with foreign institutions. And, for better and worse, it will have to seek greater support from foreign donors. Because of UC's intellectual and technical resources, as well as its international prestige, it will have to manage an ever-growing number of requests to become involved overseas.

This pressure to become more globally connected is coming from four main sources. One of the most important is the need to ensure that UC graduates will be able to compete in the 21st century, which means providing them with more opportunities for overseas learning. Education abroad used to be regarded as a luxury. Today, it is fast becoming a prerequisite for professional advancement in many fields, especially in business.

The growing ethnic diversity of California's population, the second pressure, is imposing a new set of demands on overseas programs. Over the past five years, the number of Asian and Latino students participating in the Education Abroad Program has risen dramatically. For example, the percentage of Asian American students has more than doubled, from 12% to 26%, while the number of Latino EAP students has increased from 8% to 13%. This demographic shift has created greater demand for more programs in China, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, Mexico and Central and South America.

The third pressure on UC to connect globally is the ambition of faculty, students, interest groups and governments to get the university to play a larger and more active role in advising other societies and in creating new forms of global governance. For example, faculty members at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business have become extensively involved in developing the St. Petersburg University School of Management. Leaders of California's Armenian American population have pushed the university to help start up an Armenian American university. The provincial government of Catalonia in Spain has drawn the university into a California-Catalonia Partnership Program. And the university is now involved with a number of foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations in the International Coral Reefs Initiative.

The last source of pressure is the need to find new sources of revenue. Over the past two decades, state support for UC, as a percentage of the overall budget, has declined significantly. This falloff in state funding, resistance to tuition increases and the ever-present need for money to maintain competitive academic salaries and pay for new programs have forced UC campuses, especially Berkeley and UCLA, to look to private sources, including alumni abroad. This has chiefly meant going to Asia, especially Japan, Korea and the Chinese diaspora. A few months ago, Berkeley Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien was widely hailed for his success in using his Asian ties to help raise a record-setting $780 million during his six-year tenure.

While the university's global connections have expanded, it has only just begun to grapple with the issues that these new relationships are creating.

The university's primary goal should be to ensure that its programs help to reduce, rather than exacerbate, societal divisions. One problem in this regard is the lack of equal opportunity to study abroad. Despite the fact that UC provides substantial financial aid to EAP students, it is much easier for a high-achieving student who already understands the value of international experience to take advantage of exchange opportunities than it is for an average student with few foreign contacts. Yet, it is the latter student who most needs international exposure. Rectifying this problem will require efforts to educate parents and students about the value of study abroad and to develop more flexible kinds of university-sponsored exchanges.

UC should also take steps to ensure that its global connections benefit inner-city and rural communities most in danger of being marginalized by globalization. There are two ways to do this. First, university campuses should work directly with their surrounding communities to initiate local programs that would help them take advantage of emerging global opportunities. A good place to start would be for the president's office to enter into a partnership with the city of Oakland, where its headquarters are located.

Second, departments, faculty and students should look for ways to use their global expertise and connections to help high schools and community groups develop broader international awareness and contacts. This could include sponsoring elementary and high school courses.

Finally, the university should devise a set of rules to govern foreign funds. Some university officials and Asian Americans believe that the uproar over the Taiwan contribution is a clear case of a double standard. They correctly point out that few questions have been raised about the wide range of grants received from other foreign governments and individuals.

But the deeper problem is that there are no clear guidelines governing foreign fund-raising, a vacuum that invites future battles between different American ethnic and political groups over particular donors and projects. It also makes it easier for the university to be caught up in a complicated political conflict like the China-Taiwan dispute. Universitywide rules and procedures would not eliminate these problems but they could substantially reduce them.

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