BEIJING – Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III signed the China and Asia-Pacific major agreement at Peking University this morning in Beijing, finalizing a program that has taken over two years to plan. The CAPS major is Cornell’s newest undergraduate major which will give students intensive training in the Chinese language, as well as Chinese history, culture, and politics. Rawlings and Peking University president Zhihong Xu spent the day discussing the ramifications of the new major and its expected impact on U.S.-China relations.
At a speech given to Peking University students, Rawlings emphasized the need for this kind of major.
“American students are notorious for not learning other languages. This is a widespread problem and a serious shortcoming in American education,” Rawlings said. “The CAPS program will help solve this program … by enabling them to learn one of the most important and long-lived languages in the world: Chinese.”
Rawlings used the example of Hu Shih ’14, a graduate of Cornell who returned to China to serve as a professor of philosophy at Peking, to demonstrate what he hopes the graduates of the CAPS major will accomplish.
“It is our hope at Cornell that our students majoring in CAPS will have a formative experience at Peking University and return to America with a deep appreciation of Chinese culture and an ability to influence American thought about China and even American policy toward China,” Rawlings said in the speech.
Another major theme in the CAPS signing ceremony was the emphasis on a broad curriculum consisting of multiple disciplines of study.
“Even though today the sciences and engineering receive most of the public attention and investment at research universities, the arts, humanities and social sciences also play critical roles,” Rawlings said. “That is because these disciplines are essential to understanding the important role that culture plays in the relationship between nations and among individuals.”
Xu also spoke about establishing new programs in nanoscience and biomedical engineering for Peking University, a school that is, according to him, “traditionally very strong in humanities and social sciences.”
The speech Rawlings gave at Peking is just one of several events he will be participating in during his three day visit to Beijing. He will be attending the Beijing Forum tomorrow, an academic summit which several international dignitaries, including former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, will be speaking at.
Michael Zak ’75, an alumnus of Cornell University, came up with the idea of CAPS a few years ago, and was present at the signing ceremony.
“There are three good reasons to make language a foundations of this program,” Zak said at the reception. “In order to speak with a friend, to work with a partner and especially when you’re having disagreements, you have to speak his language.”
Rawlings also met with Tsinghua University President Binglin Gu over dinner last night to discuss the difficulties of running a university with tens of thousands of residents.
“Not only are you a university president, you are also a mayor of a small city,” Gu said. Tsinghua University has approximately 30,000 students, faculty and staff. According to Gu, all fulltime students live on campus. Among other issues, Rawlings and Gu discussed the importance of what Gu called the “Three O’s” of research and study: bio, nano, and info, short for biotechnology, nanotechology and information science.
“These three emphases match pretty well with Cornell’s,” Rawlings added.
Rawlings will also visit Tsinghua University on Thursday as part of the Cornell-Tsinghua Computer Science Workshop. Kent Fuchs, dean of the College of Engineering, in addition to several faculty members from the Engineering College will join the Cornell delegation at the workshop.