Chinese Administrator Explores American University System through Mason Visit

Posted: March 10, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jeremy Lasich

Xia Jinwen
Xia Jinwen

Xia Jinwen, director of the Teaching Affairs Office at Nanjing Normal University in China, has been at George Mason since Feb.10 shadowing Provost Peter Stearns to learn more about the American university system. Mason is one of 10 public universities nationwide chosen by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities to host senior university administrators from China under the Extended Sino-American Leadership Training Initiative (EXSALT). As part of the reciprocal EXSALT program, a George Mason faculty member will be invited to spend a semester teaching at Nanjing Normal next year.

During his month-long visit—Xia’s last day at Mason is tomorrow—he has attended a number of senior staff meetings with Stearns and President Alan Merten, met with university administrators, talked with numerous faculty members, toured all three George Mason campuses, and attended several classes.

“One of the biggest impressions I have of George Mason so far is the deep level of internationalization, with students here from more than 140 countries and many international activities,” says Xia through his interpreter, Madelyn Ross, China coordinator at Mason. “It is very refreshing, and it’s a good program because it promotes cultural and educational interaction. I think our Chinese universities can learn from George Mason about the level of openness to foreign countries. We have begun to pay a lot of attention to internationalizing our university in the last 10 years.”

Another difference Xia singled out is the higher education management system. In China, the structure is more traditional, with clear divisions between upper management and staff. Here, he has been impressed with how Stearns takes the time to meet with a number of different faculty, staff, and student groups throughout the week. “Dr. Stearns gets feedback from the university community and uses that information when making important decisions,” he says. “I enjoy watching him tap into the energy and enthusiasm of the students and staff.”

Another aspect that has made an impression on Xia is how far George Mason plans ahead. “I am very impressed with how Dr. Stearns is always thinking into the future. He has a vision. The provost take a lot of time to gather information before making a decision, but at the same time, he’s good at seeing an opportunity somewhere and moving quickly to take advantage of it.”

Xia is trying to learn more about how George Mason has grown so fast and also improved its reputation over the past 20 years. Nanjing Normal is in a similar growth pattern and is comparable in demographics to Mason: It has more than 27,000 students and 3,140 faculty and staff members. Also like George Mason, Nanjing Normal has three separate campuses, and is becoming a model for other Chinese universities in its management of distributed campuses. The university is also well known in China for its academics, as it is ranked one of the top 50 universities in the nation, and its programs in education, geography, and Chinese language and literature are among the top three in China.

When Merten visited China last year, he signed agreements with seven Chinese universities, including Nanjing Normal, to participate in the 1-2-1 Joint Academic Program beginning this fall. Xia hopes that the 1-2-1 exchange program will provide many more opportunities for Nanjing Normal and George Mason to continue their dialogue.

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