HAYS – President Mirta M. Martin of Fort Hays State University was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to testify about the university’s experience with its China programs to a subcommittee of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Dr. Martin was asked to address several broad areas of interest in a hearing titled “Is Academic Freedom Threatened by China’s Influence on U.S. Universities?”
Her overall answer to that question, as it relates to FHSU’s experience, was a “no.”
“All of the challenges we have faced have been addressed together with our Chinese partners under the auspices of their respective government education commissions,” she said in the conclusion to the prepared portion of her testimony. “The Fort Hays State University-Sias and Fort Hays State University-SNU partnerships are widely noted in the higher education circles as a model of U.S.-Sino cooperation.”
She gave the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations a brief overview of FHSU’s China history, from its beginning in 1999 when the University was approached to partner with a private university founded in China the year before.
Sias International University, in Zengzhou (pronounced JUNGjoe), China, Henan (pronounced hooNON) Province, was looking for a regionally accredited American university partner to offer dual bachelor’s degrees for Chinese students.
Fort Hays State University, which has had a strong distance education component since 1911, signed an initial partnership agreement in 2000. In 2003, FHSU also began a partnership with Shenyang Normal University (SNU) in Shenyang (pronounced shinYONG).
The university created what it calls a “cross-border” model of education for its China programs. In this model, the university’s faculty live in China and educate Chinese students in English.
“Our faculty have total control over the design and content of our curriculum,” she told the committee members. “They select the textbooks, prepare exams and quizzes, assess students and issue grades.”
The program began with a Bachelor of General Studies degree at Sias. In 2007, said Dr. Martin, the China Ministry of Education asked Fort Hays State to expand its offerings to “more traditional Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Business Administration degrees.”
In 2015, students at FHSU’s Chinese partner institutions can earn a B.B.A.; a B.A or B.S. in organizational leadership; a B.A. in global business English; a B.S. in information networking and telecommunications; or a B.A. in political science. All the courses are taught in English.
The subcommittee asked Dr. Martin to address several broad areas, including details of how the educational model works and how FHSU came to be in China.
The committee also had several specific areas it wanted Dr. Martin to address:
Has there been any censorship by Chinese authorities of content offered by Fort Hays State University?
Dr. Martin said that, at first, the Chinese government asked FHSU to provide materials and resources for review. The materials were approved quickly.
“There was no censorship of any content or any courses by the government or by the university partners,” she said. “The Chinese government has not asked to review curriculum, content or faculty credential since then.”
Has Fort Hays State ever had to replace a textbook or other content in China?
Dr. Martin explained that Fort Hays State has controlled the selection of textbooks and owns the courses, which are taught by the university’s faculty. Texts in China sometimes differ from texts used for the same courses on the FHSU campus, but those choices were “made to accommodate the partner institution’s concerns about textbook costs or vendor access and with the full approval of our faculty.”
“Ultimately,” she said, “textbook selection has always remained with Fort Hays State University.”
How do our faculty display principles of academic freedom and transparency?
“Faculty display principles of academic freedom and transparency through their teaching, research and discussions with students. Discussions regarding learning objectives for the degree programs, majors and individual courses have all been given and accepted in an atmosphere of transparency,” she said.
Faculty have been free to teach and engage in scholarly activity appropriate for their disciplines without interference by the partner institution,” she said.
Has Fort Hays State experienced challenges with technology infrastructure and social media?
Bandwidth at the partner institutions is improving, she said, “but challenges still exist.” Plus, the Chinese Internet firewall made it necessary for FHSU to put four servers in China so that the course delivery software could be more effective. She also pointed out other interruptions: official blocks to virtual private networks that hindered access to some material; a total block of Gmail last year; a block to Facebook after 2009; and generally erratic communication channels to and from China.
Still, she noted, “the Internet is thriving in China.” In May of this year, she said, FHSU’s “vice president for technology held meetings with her counterparts at the partner universities to address technology infrastructure challenges and availability.”
“They were open to her observations and suggestions. We will continue these conversations.”
Dr. Martin concluded by addressing the overall geopolitical situation in China. She said China’s president has been open about his plans to expand China’s influence in the world by building an “innovative society” with “strong Chinese tech firms that can compete internationally.” These goals, rather than hindering FHSU’s China partnerships, she said, “may have strengthened them, because through our partnership, we are highlighting all that is great in America.”
“During these times of complex political and economic change, the continued success of these partnerships serves as a ‘best practice’ model where both institutions and their students benefit greatly,” she said.
Dr. Martin was one of five witnesses at the June 25 hearing. The others were:
• Susan V. Lawrence, a specialist in Asian affairs for the Congressional Research Service.
• Jeffrey S. Lehman, vice chancellor of New York University-Shanghai.
• Yaxue Cao, founder and editor of China Change, which, according to its About page, is “a website devoted to news and commentary related to civil society, rule of law, and rights activities in China. It works with China’s democracy advocates to bring their voices into English and to help the rest of the world understand what people are thinking and doing to effect change in China.”
• Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the U.S., from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
The witness list, with links to the full text of their statements, is available through the subcommittee’s website: