Stan­ford dean: Builds bridges with CI BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By Qi­dong Zhang in San Fran­cisco kel­lyzhang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Piles and piles of documents sit on the desk of Richard Saller, Stan­ford Univer­sity’s dean of Hu­man­i­ties and Sci­ences, await­ing his at­ten­tion. In ad­di­tion to teach­ing and over­see­ing more than 550 pro­fes­sors at the Cal­i­for­nia-based school, he is di­rec­tor of the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute on Chi­nese lan­guage and cul­ture.

Saller was ap­proached by Han­ban, a Chi­nese govern­ment-af­fil­i­ated group un­der the Chi­nese Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, about es­tab­lish­ing a Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute at Stan­ford af­ter Sun Chaofeng, pro­fes­sor of East Asian lan­guages and cul­tures, made the ini­tial in­tro­duc­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Sun, a Chi­nese ed­u­ca­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tive in­vited him around 2005 to ap­ply for a grant to study Chi­nese lan­guage at Stan­ford, which spurred the ini­tial con­ver­sa­tions about a re­search-ori­ented in­sti­tute. Through an­other Bei­jing or­ga­ni­za­tion, it led to Han­ban’s ini­tia­tives in the US for the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes.

Saller said al­though there was “no ma­jor stum­ble” dur­ing the process, it took three years to es­tab­lish a part­ner­ship be­tween Stan­ford and Pek­ing Univer­sity (PKU), one of China’s top re­search uni­ver­si­ties, and Han­ban.

“Af­ter all, it was the first Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute of its kind in the US, we worked the pro­gram out with the Han­ban di­rec­tor Xu Lin in­volv­ing Chi­nese clas­sics and trans­la­tion that was im­ple­mented into the in­sti­tute,” Saller said. “I felt it is vi­tal that we help our stu­dents to un­der­stand Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture, his­tory and cul­ture, which is re­ally the root of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and un­der­stand­ing be­tween US and China.”

Un­der the De­cem­ber 2009 agree­ment, Han­ban do­nated $1 mil­lion for con­fer­ences and other pro­grams, $1 mil­lion for two grad­u­ate fel­low­ships, and $2 mil­lion for a Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute pro­fes­sor­ship in si­nol­ogy, which was even­tu­ally de­voted to clas­si­cal po­etry be­cause Stan­ford needed a scholar in that field. Stan­ford matched the gifts, which also funded an en­dow­ment for the in­sti­tute.

Saller said CI is a bridge that pro­motes mu­tual un­der­stand­ing among Chi­nese and Amer­i­can people and aca­demics, and ben­e­fits both Chi­nese and Amer­i­can cul­tures.

“I be­lieve it is vi­tal that we es­tab­lish com­mu­ni­ca­tion and study chan­nels be­tween China and US so that we un­der­stand each other from his­tory, cul­ture and lan­guages,” Saller said. “The US-China re­la­tion­ship is de­pen­dent on such un­der­stand­ing and in to­day’s world sim­ply be­cause we can­not af­ford mak­ing any mis­takes of any kind,” said Saller.

Since 2005, more than $500 mil­lion has been spent to es­tab­lish 350 Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes world­wide and about 75 in the US, four times the num­ber in any other coun­try, ac­cord­ing to Han­ban’s an­nual re­port. Stan­ford Univer­sity was among the top 20 US uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges that opened a Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute in 2010.

“Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute is par­tic­u­larly in hu­man­i­ties, so we have con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese au­thors talk about com­par­a­tive lit­er­a­ture. Within our depart­ment we try to of­fer a full range of Chi­nese stud­ies at the In­sti­tute. Pro­fes­sors Wang Ban, for in­stance, teaches Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture and film, com­par­a­tive lit­er­a­ture, aes­thet­ics, crit­i­cal the­ory, in­tel­lec­tual his­tory; and Sun Chaofeng teaches Chi­nese lin­guis­tics, his­tory of Chi­nese, Chi­nese clas­si­cal, and even Chi­nese as a sec­ond lan­guage.”

Wang, who is chair of the depart­ment of East Asian lan­guages and cul­tures hous­ing the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute, was in­volved at the ini­tial stage of set­ting up the CI. He is a mem­ber of the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute Ad­vi­sory Board and man­ages CI’s daily af­fairs. Wang said two PhD stu­dents are study­ing at CI and will grad­u­ate in about two to three years.

“The CI at Stan­ford al­lows re­searchers in the US to have an ex­cel­lent plat­form of schol­arly re­search and ex­change with our Chi­nese col­leagues in Pek­ing Univer­sity and other Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties. It raises the pro­file of Stan­ford as a sig­nif­i­cant player in in­ter­na­tional aca­demic and ed­u­ca­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion with China,” said Wang.

Saller grew up in Kansas City and went to the Univer­sity of Illi­nois where he stud­ied en­gi­neer­ing but switched to his­tory af­ter tak­ing a class in Ro­man his­tory and lit­er­a­ture. He re­ceived his doc­tor­ate from Cam­bridge Univer­sity.

Saller went to Stan­ford in 2007 from the Univer­sity of Chicago where he had served as its provost (2002-2006), and dean of the so­cial sci­ences di­vi­sion (1994-2001). He was elected to the Amer­i­can Academy of Arts and Sci­ences in 2005. Saller’s wife Tanya Luhrmann, a psy­cho­log­i­cal an­thro­pol­o­gist best known for her stud­ies of mod­ern-day witches, charis­matic Chris­tians, and psy­chi­a­trist, teaches at Stan­ford’s an­thro­pol­ogy depart­ment.

“My first ex­po­sure to Chi­nese his­tory was back in the 1970s when I dis­cov­ered that China has a di­rect test for en­try into govern­ment ser­vice, in con­trast to Rome,” he said.

As a his­to­rian of an­cient Rome, Saller said that he is no China ex­pert, but de­votes much of his time to ex­am­in­ing both Euro­pean and Chi­nese so­cial, cul­tural and eco­nomic changes from an­cient times to the present. “I ask my­self to draw con­nec­tions

RICHARD SALLER

Born: 1953 • BA, his­tory and Greek, Univer­sity of Illi­nois (1974) • PhD, Cam­bridge Univer­sity (1978) • Dean, school of Hu­man­i­ties and Sci­ences, Stan­ford Univer­sity and pro­fes­sor of clas­sics and his­tory (2006-present) • Provost, Univer­sity of Chicago (2002-2006) • Dean, So­cial Stud­ies di­vi­sion, Univer­sity of Chicago (1994 - 2001) in my re­search and my stu­dents, and fel­low schol­ars,” he said. “I also try to ask my­self and my stu­dents how the past can illuminate the mod­ern world so that we could im­ple­ment the same to stu­dents at the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute.”

Saller be­lieves a univer­sity should al­low young stu­dents to ex­plore their cre­ative ideas in all fields, in­clud­ing sci­ence, en­gi­neer­ing and hu­man­i­ties, and that the cul­tural ex­plo­ration be­tween the US and China by stu­dents at the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute is cru­cial to the un­der­stand­ing of the two coun­tries.

“The ex­change pro­gram be­tween Pek­ing Univer­sity and Stan­ford is where teach­ers and stu­dents from both coun­tries can learn, teach and ex­pe­ri­ence each other’s cul­ture and his­tory, and be­come the big­gest source for cul­ture teach­ing in the long run. Now Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties are open to re­ceiv­ing in­ter­na­tional stu­dents. I wish Stan­ford can fa­cil­i­tate as much, but our re­source is limited, and CI is a start­ing point,” he said.

He said at an Oc­to­ber pro­gram at PKU cam­pus fac­ulty and ad­min­is­tra­tors can dis­cuss higher ed­u­ca­tion in a global con­text.

Striv­ing to po­si­tion Stan­ford’s School of Hu­man­i­ties and Sci­ences to meet the chal­lenges of the 21st century, Saller said the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute now houses a ref­er­ence li­brary on China, and pre­sents lec­tures and work­shops that are open to the pub­lic. He also said Chi­nese has be­come the sec­ond most pop­u­lar for­eign lan­guage at Stan­ford Univer­sity.

Wang said that Stan­ford’s Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute fre­quently comes un­der crit­i­cism.

“Crit­ics pre­sume that our CI is funded and is thus con­trolled by the Chi­nese govern­ment. They are wrong in more ways than one,” he said.

“The CI is funded by an en­dow­ment, half of which comes from the Hewlett Foun­da­tion, with no strings at­tached. Stan­ford fac­ulty and ad­min­is­tra­tors man­age and make de­ci­sions for CI events and pro­grams,” Wang said.

“On the other hand, the Chi­nese govern­ment, for all its prob­lems, is a le­git­i­mate govern­ment, which is try­ing to forge good re­la­tions with the US and is a pos­i­tive force in mak­ing the world a bet­ter and pros­per­ous place. It is wrong and detri­men­tal to Sino-US re­la­tions to as­sume that any­thing to do with the Chi­nese govern­ment por­tends evil or de­pri­va­tion of free­dom.”

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QI­DONG ZHANG / CHINA DAILY

Richard Saller, Stan­ford Univer­sity’s dean of Hu­man­i­ties and Sci­ences, said Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute ben­e­fits both Chi­nese and Amer­i­can cul­tures.

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