Why is NYU in China and elsewhere?

Because we believe that in the twenty-first century, our students need to be prepared for a more global world and that research universities need to have a more global structure to achieve that; because we believe in open intellectual engagement, even with societies that are not the same as our own; and because we believe in the value, vitality, and durability of the US-style liberal arts education and find it both worthy and academically exciting to offer that in China.

As someone who studied in three countries and has spent most of my academic career in a fourth, I have a keen personal sense of how important it is for higher education to have a profoundly international outlook. That is why the errors of both fact and analysis in former CIA officer Kent Harrington’s Foreign Affairs article on American universities in China require a response.

As far as we know, Harrington has never visited the NYU campus in China nor spoken to knowledgeable people about it there or in the United States. Perhaps that explains the errors.

First, NYU does not “make money” from its China campus. The budgetary structure neither directs funds from the programs in China to New York nor vice-versa. It is thus worth putting to rest once and for all the claim of a “profit motive”: revenues do not flow back into the United States.

Harrington’s second charge—that the institution is selling out its academic values—is also untrue. A precondition of establishing the programs in China was securing the promise that NYU would have complete academic decision-making authority and could operate with academic freedom—as the concept is commonly understood in the United States. That promise has been kept.

As members of the NYU Shanghai community would attest, faculty do research, teach, and conduct classroom discussions as they wish. Its students freely discuss the full range of contemporary issues in class and have unfettered access to the Internet. Its libraries in China are filled with the same kinds of books and periodicals as are found on the United States–based campuses. The NYU campus in China has even been visited by public figures who are critical of Chinese policy, including Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey.

The inaccuracies in Harrington’s piece would be bad enough if that were the extent of it. What is worse is that he ignores the substantial benefits of a robust presence of American universities in China and elsewhere and the way they contribute to the pursuit of stable international relations.   

That brings us to the heart of what Harrington misunderstands: NYU’s partners in Shanghai invited the university to create its campus there in full knowledge of the principles by which we conduct ourselves. NYU is an institution of scholarly and teaching excellence committed to free intellectual inquiry, to the free and open exchange of ideas, and to the spirit of academic innovation. And we would not want it to be otherwise.

ANDREW HAMILTON is President of New York University.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now