Just as dawn broke on Sunday, Nov. 12th, Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III boarded a plane headed west. Seven days later, after spending 30 hours on a plane and traveling 16,000 miles, Rawlings returned to Ithaca.
Did he take an early Thanksgiving vacation?
Not so, the jetlagged president of the University insisted.
“It was the most productive [single] week I’ve ever spent anywhere … Not a minute wasted,” Rawlings said.
In a whirlwind trip with just a few colleagues, our president visited Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong two weeks ago not to relax, but to strengthen our ties to Chinese universities in what he called an increasingly “interconnected world”.
Functioning on just a few hours of sleep a night during the three-day visit to Beijing, Rawlings finalized the China and Asia Pacific Studies (CAPS) major with Peking University, kicked off the first of a series of collaborative workshops with Tsinghua University, participated in a two-hour interview on the Chinese national television station CCTV, spoke at the Beijing Forum and met with the Chinese minister of education to begin negotiations about repatriating a fungi collection.
“We accomplished a great deal substantively,” Rawlings said. “We didn’t just have pleasant meetings. We signed a historic agreement with [Peking University] to enable students in the new CAPS major to spend a full semester in Beijing and conducted a serious workshop at Tsinghua [University] in information science.”
Prof. David Wippman, law, vice provost for international affairs, was largely responsible for overseeing the planning of the trip. Although Wippman did plan extra time between meetings, last-minute additions by people who wanted to meet Rawlings forced the delegation to follow a packed schedule. Despite this, Rawlings repeatedly noted during the trip that, infamous Beijing traffic jams notwithstanding, the delegation was never late for any meeting and the weather in all three cities was generally suitable.
“It really went as well as we could have hoped … The trip was extremely successful,” Wippman said.
When Rawlings left Beijing, he had surely strengthened ties with two of China’s premier universities and reached 300 million Chinese people through CCTV, but that wasn’t enough.
Within about five hours, Rawlings had forged new ties with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, the East China Normal University and had even convinced the deputy secretary of the Shanghai Municipal Committee of Cornell’s interest in creating programs with institutions in Shanghai.
“The meetings in Shanghai were … very productive and will lead to real business with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and East China Normal,” Rawlings said.
There remains a lot of work to be done with our newfound colleagues in Shanghai, however. Three faculty members from East China Normal have been invited to visit Cornell, and Wippman, as he did for Peking and Tsinghua, will spend the next few months overseeing the development of collaborative new programs with those institutions. Prof. Jian Chen, history, will be working with members of the Shanghai Academy to translate declassified Cold War documents, one of several new projects that were initiated as a result of the trip.
Cornell also awaits word from the Chinese Ministry of Education about repatriating a fungi collection once collected by S.C. Teng. Teng had studied at Cornell in the 1920s, and, when he returned to China, continued to send specimens of his fungal collections to the Cornell department of plant pathology – totaling over 2,000 specimens today. During World War II, his original specimens were destroyed, making Cornell’s collections particularly valuable. At Rawlings’ meeting with Ji Zhou, the Chinese minister of education, they discussed the possibility of having a Chinese government official visit the University to attend a repatriation ceremony.
During his last few days in China, Rawlings spent time with Cornell alumni in Hong Kong. While always in the background providing support, dozens of alumni were present during the CAPS signing and dozens more met with Rawlings in a reception held in the U.S. consulate in Shanghai.
“The final element [of this trip] was the alumni,” Wippman said.