Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China

January 5, 2009 - Delivered at Shanghai Jiao Tong University

A Roadmap for Global Education: Break Down Walls and Build Windmills

Madame Ma; President Zhang; faculty and students; and honored guests:

We gather on a landmark anniversary. Thirty years ago this week, the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America normalized relations. As the president of America’s first university, I am deeply honored to stand before you as an honorary member of the faculty of one of China’s most eminent universities.

As a political philosopher, I have come to Shanghai Jiao Tong University because of my lifelong fascination with a country known for its high achievement in science and culture; a country that fought a bloody war for liberation; a country that paid a high price for isolating itself from the rest of the world -- and then achieved great prosperity and influence by engaging with the world; a country admired for harnessing the inventive talents and energies of its people, yet criticized for pumping too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; a country struggling to strike the right balance between unbridled capitalism … and state ownership of industry.

I am describing, of course, the United States of America.

In all seriousness, the events of the past several months have revealed not only a breakdown in the system of checks and balances designed to protect the financial markets; they have also revealed a breakdown of leadership and trust.

In today’s interconnected world, when trust erodes and leadership fails anywhere, billons of people suffer everywhere. The financial crisis that began in the U.S. spread like wildfire to China and across the globe, destroying jobs by the millions and life savings by the trillions. Global demand for Chinese exports has fallen … and your country’s leaders are trying to arrive at a new formula for maintaining strong economic growth. America’s auto industry is in critical condition and, even with a public bailout, will survive only with a massive infusion of creative leadership.

And only with a swift, smart, and sustained worldwide effort to conserve natural resources and embrace clean energy practices, will humanity itself survive the century ahead.

According to an ancient Chinese proverb, “When the wind changes direction, there are those who build walls … and those who build windmills.”

Building walls against change in today’s world is an exercise in futility. Climate change, the spread of infectious diseases, the scourge of neurodegenerative diseases, the reliance on nonrenewable energy sources, terrorism, and economic turmoil -- none of these problems carries a passport (or respects international borders). None of these problems can be resolved by economic stimulus packages alone.

Indeed, the economic crisis is too serious and cannot be solved by economists alone. The health care crisis is too serious and complex to be solved by doctors alone. The security crisis is too complex and serious to be solved by the military alone. The environmental crisis is too complex and serious to be solved by environmentalists alone.

The question for us to ask is not, “Are we going to break down walls and build windmills?” We have no real choice since our very survival depends on our doing so.

Rather the question we all need to ask: “How do we generate the vast range of leadership needed both to stimulate the global economy … and to create a healthy, prosperous, and sustainable future for our great-grandchildren and all of humanity?”

Benjamin Franklin, one of the great inventors, innovators and civic leaders in American history (and the founder of the University of Pennsylvania), famously observed that “an investment in knowledge pays the best dividends.”

That is ever more true throughout the world today. Solving our global crisis and shaping a sustainable future for humanity requires a heavier investment in knowledge that transcends conventional boundaries – or what we can call global knowledge.

Conventional models of generating knowledge within narrowly defined boundaries of a single nation, profession, or academic discipline will not propel our societies or our world forward. We need to educate leaders and citizens who habitually think outside of conventionally-defined boxes.

I am proposing a 21st century revolution in education. I believe we need to educate our students to a high level of competency in global knowledge -- by which I mean knowledge that is integrated across national, professional, and disciplinary boundaries.Why? Because mastery of global knowledge will increasingly be the benchmark of successful leadership in this century.

To get this revolution off the ground, we need to know what it means to be globally educated.

In English, the word “global” normally refers to the entire world of nations, cultures, and geography. We are competing in a global economy. Technology fosters instant global communication. The United Nations is a global deliberative body. We are confronting global climate change. And so on.

Global also means “comprehensive, total.” Global encompasses the sum of all the roles we play in our lives, all of the academic disciplines, all modes of thinking. To think globally is to use both sides of our brains. To think and act globally is to integrate knowledge and experiences across multiple perspectives.

Psychologist Howard Gardner argues that we must develop the full global range of our cognitive abilities and interpersonal capacities in order to make the best judgments and decisions in a today’s turbulent world.

In other words, we need to rely on global knowledge to be most responsible and successful at all times.

Gardner describes five modes of thinking.

The first, disciplinary mind involves the mastery of one major school of academic thought, such as history, science, or mathematics, and one professional craft, such as law, medicine, or engineering. Everyone in this room has a well developed disciplinary mind.

The second, synthesizing mind has the power to integrate knowledge and ideas from different disciplines into a coherent insight that then can be communicated to others.

The third, creating mind harnesses the power of disciplinary and synthesizing thinking to recognize new problems and new opportunities, to venture into new paths of inquiry, and to propose new ideas and new solutions.

The fourth respectful mind values the differences that exist among human beings, cultures, and nations. Not rancor, nor hatred, not ridicule, but mutual respect is the most productive attitude to guide conversations, interactions, and debates between people and parties who disagree.

Mutual respect does not require individuals or groups to play down their differences. Rather, when we engage each other with mutual respect, we give serious consideration to disagreements as a way to collaborate on shared goals when possible, and to compete in a constructive spirit of engagement when we cannot agree on shared goals.

Fifth and finally, the ethical mind forces us to think beyond our immediate personal, professional, and group interests, and to consider the impact that our decisions and actions will have on others.

The best institutions of higher education in the world will increasingly develop these five mental capacities in our students as components of a global education. When taken together, these five mental capacities can guide institutional leaders, faculty, and students in investing in global education.

Scientists like to point to an “existence proof” of an idea to ensure that it is not utopian. Is there an existence proof of global knowledge both in practice and in the making?

My existence proof of global knowledge in practice is Shi Zhengrong, who rose from childhood poverty to earn a master’s degree in optics and later a PhD in engineering from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

Shi could have remained in Australia in a secure post. Instead, he headed back to Wuxi to launch his own solar-cell manufacturing company, Suntech, which is now a world leader in solar technology and the first Chinese company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Shi wants to drive down the cost of his photovoltaic panels so that millions of people here in China can afford them, thus capturing a major market and helping to clean up the environment in the process. Shi has mastered the art of thinking and acting globally.

My existence proof of global knowledge in the making is Joyce Meng, a woman, I predict, who will join the ranks of great global leaders. Joyce, now a Rhodes Scholar, is a 2008 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, who earned dual degrees in Finance from Penn’s Wharton School and International Studies from Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences, with minors in Mathematics and Spanish. While at Penn, Joyce wrote a major research paper in Spanish on Spanish Culture and Civilization, worked on microfinance initiatives for a major foundation in Madrid, and spent summers abroad as a financial analyst for Credit Suisse and later for Goldman Sachs.

As a Penn undergraduate, before turning 21, Joyce co-founded an innovative bank and business incubator for street youth in Lagos, Nigeria. Now Joyce is studying economics and international development at Oxford University, and she recently launched a peer-to-peer computer network, called Givology, which connects Internet donors to students and education projects in need of financial assistance in the developing world.

Joyce aspires to work for the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation. She says that for all the good that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have done, their efforts have often foundered because, “there was a feeling that bureaucrats didn’t understand the local context enough, that there wasn’t enough understanding of the priorities of the people they were trying to help.”

A primary mission of great universities is to provide the kind of global education that empowers the Joyce Mengs of the world to think outside all boxes and come up with creative ideas that can propel our societies forward. At Penn and at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, we train highly skilled engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, and experts in finance. But our primary mission and our ultimate goal is to educate creative future leaders for a rapidly changing world who are also the finest experts in science and engineering, medicine and law, finance and fine arts, education and architecture, culture and communications.

This past fall, we convened an alumni panel of accomplished professionals who were describing the impact of their Penn education.

One Penn alumnus, Richard Wolf, who majored in Art History, now runs the Office Graphics Division at Microsoft.

Members of the audience wanted to know how he managed to convert a liberal arts education into a powerful creative position at the world’s largest IT company.

“You know,” he replied, “when I was an undergraduate, the job I have now did not even exist!” Wolf was wise and didn’t view his College diploma as a piece of paper to be redeemed for a job. Rather, he saw his College education as a redeeming immersion in global knowledge that would prepare him to flourish in a rapidly changing world.

The most successful colleges and universities of the 21st century will do more to engender in their students a deeper understanding of our dynamic world in all of its diversity, along with the capacity and desire to make a positive difference in the world.

How do we equip our students with such a global perspective? We should not expect there to be a simple formula for producing globally educated citizens. But three principles can guide us on our mission: The principle of access. The principle of integrating knowledge. And the principle of global engagement.

By access, I mean that creative talent and hard work, not family wealth, pedigree, or affiliation, should afford young men and women entry into the most selective colleges and universities.

Imagine how much worse off China and the world would be had Shi Zhengrong never had access to a university education.

The United States has a long way to go in ensuring access to all talented, hardworking students. We at Penn are now providing full financial aid to all students solely on the basis of financial need. Removing the economic barrier for all talented, hardworking students to be globally educated is what I mean by access.

But what kind of education is truly global? Our world needs students who are educated broadly as well as deeply.

Future scientists and engineers must be educated to think creatively and to understand how their technical knowledge can realistically be put into practice -- and to communicate effectively with non-specialists.

Students from the social sciences and humanities need to know the basics of science in order to appreciate the magnitude of problems such as global warming. Scientific specialists on global warming need to understand the economics and politics of energy production, consumption and trade.

The third and final means for achieving global knowledge is more global engagement. By engaging globally, universities in every country can maximize their potential for generating the global knowledge and understanding that their nations and the world need more than ever before in human history.

Partnerships between universities across national boundaries create critical pathways to putting global knowledge into practice.

How can we strengthen collaboration among American and Chinese universities to fashion a virtuous circle of flourishing scholars and students … producing the ideas and human capital that fuel innovation, progress and sustainable prosperity in both countries … and then tackle the global environmental and economic crises together?

My search for an answer to this question has led me to Shanghai Jiao Tong University and to China – because significant differences between our respective systems of higher education present not only challenges but also opportunities.

I believe that as we increasingly appreciate the gains we can make through closer collaboration, our differences will prove to be gold mines of integrated knowledge that will benefit us all.

Institutional independence, diversity, and academic freedom – along with an infusion of government and philanthropic support, have propelled American higher education. But it took the United States more than three centuries to develop its robust system of higher education, while China is building its constellation of excellent universities in far less than a century.

Your government’s strong commitment to funding the best in higher education is a reflection of China’s centralized and coordinated system of higher education. It has enabled you to achieve a concentration of scholarly energy and talent unparalleled in history.

Spurred by our common pursuit of innovative ideas and solutions, we have much to gain both as individual institutions and in research and teaching partnerships in generating global knowledge.

You have outstanding schools of business, engineering, and medicine – as does Penn.

I am hopeful that our collaborations with you on stem cell research will yield important breakthroughs in our collective search for cures to Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and other chronic illnesses.

I am looking forward to the conference that Shanghai Jiao Tong and Penn will host on International Financial Regulation. I expect the conference will generate innovative proposals … not just for repairing the global financial markets, but also for creating a system of safeguards against the kind of corruption, greed, and incompetence that produced an economic calamity of seismic proportions.

I return to the Chinese proverb. If we are going to break down walls and build better windmills, we will need the best educated leaders to design them … and to run them … and, when necessary, to upgrade them.

Why do we need those leaders to be experts in global knowledge and lifelong learners?

Leaders write and enforce the rules and regulations that shape the behavior, incentives, and decisions of millions of people.

Leaders who are well educated in global knowledge will write better rules, make smarter decisions, and guide society onto a wiser path toward a sustainable future.

There is another reason that we should place a premium on global knowledge that was well captured by Vaclav Havel, the playwright who became a political dissident and then the president of the Czech Republic. Havel told a gathering of students much like this one that no group of people “is better equipped to decide about the fate of this globally interconnected civilization than people who are most keenly aware of these interconnections, who pay the greatest regard to them, and who take the most responsible attitude toward the world as a whole.”

"(Such people),” Havel said, “are not indifferent when people in an unknown country on the other side of the planet are annihilated, or when children starve; nor are they unconcerned about global warming and the prospects of future generations leading an endurable life.”

"They care about the fate of virgin forests in faraway places, about whether or not humankind will soon destroy all its nonrenewable resources, or whether a global dictatorship of advertisement, consumerism, and blood-and-thunder stories on TV will ultimately lead the human race to a state of complete idiocy.”

Where will those leaders come from? If we effectively launch a 21st century revolution in global education, the leaders whom we need will come from those colleges and universities that invest most heavily and wisely in global knowledge.

I would like to end with an image that I, along with billions of people across the world, will not forget. As I watched the dazzling spectacle of the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing, I was taken by the image of a beautiful Chinese dancer, festooned in silk, gliding across a massive magic carpet that was borne aloft by hundreds of dancers beneath her.

This performance, as you well know, signified the glory of the ancient Tang Dynasty, when China used the Silk Route to forge closer cultural and economic ties with its neighbors to the south and west. By becoming more inclusive, accessible, and open to the world, China flourished as never before and virtually invented the template for modern civilization.

No society can return to its romanticized past. We can only move forward.

"History does not repeat itself,” the American novelist and humorist Mark Twain said, “but it does rhyme.”

We can therefore learn from the way that our present rhymes with our past – from the triumphs of our elders and ancestors, and from their mistakes. And we can learn from the way we rhyme and resonate with one another.

We are living in perilous times. But I believe a 21st century that is driven by global knowledge can be a Golden Age for the entire world.

It took 15,000 performers to produce the ultimate global Olympic spectacle in China. It will take many more globally educated leaders and citizens who direct their collective talents and wisdom to navigate our societies and the world on a course to a prosperous and sustainable future. Globally educated leaders and citizens will want to break down more walls and build better windmills.

Will we invest in the global education that points our societies and world in this, more helpful direction?

I am eager to hear your questions and answers.

I thank the Shanghai Jiao Tong community for finding the perfect formula for making Penn’s president feel most welcome: I will treasure being an honorary member of your faculty for the rest of my life. Thank you very much. And now I am happy to take your questions.


January 5, 2009 Press Release: University of Pennsylvania, Shanghai Jiao Tong University to Expand Academic, Research Collaborations.