'Empires of Ideas': Creating the Modern University from Germany to America to ChinaVIEW EVENT DETAILS
Presented in partnership with Rice University, George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.–China Relations, and Born Global Ventures
Thursday, February 23, 2023
6 p.m. Program
Today, American institutions dominate nearly every major ranking of global universities. Yet in historical terms, the U.S.'s preeminence is relatively new, and there is no reason to assume that U.S. schools will continue to lead the world a century from now. Indeed, America’s lead in higher education is now in question. Thirty years ago, Chinese institutions were reopening after the Cultural Revolution, and now, they are some of the most innovative educational centers in the world.
The book Empires of Ideas looks to the past 200 years and chronicles two revolutions in higher education: the birth of the research university and its integration with the liberal education model. Author Dr. William C. Kirby examines the successes of leading universities, in Germany and the U.S. — The University of Berlin and the Free University of Berlin; Harvard, Duke, and the University of California, Berkeley ― to determine how they rose to prominence and what threats they currently face. Kirby draws illuminating comparisons to the trajectories of three Chinese contenders, Tsinghua University, Nanjing University, and the University of Hong Kong, which aim to be world-class institutions that can compete with the best the United States and Europe have to offer.
Join Dr. Kirby and David J. Firestein as they discuss the origins and status of the modern university, and explore the challenges and opportunities that both U.S. and Chinese universities face in the coming century.
This discussion takes place at Rice University.
About the Speakers
William C. Kirby is T. M. Chang Professor of China Studies at Harvard University and Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. He is a Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor. He serves as Chairman of the Harvard China Fund, the University's academic venture fund for China, and Faculty Chair of the Harvard Center Shanghai, Harvard's first University-wide center located outside the United States.
A historian of modern China, Kirby's work examines contemporary China's business, economic, and political development in an international context. He writes and teaches on the growth of modern companies in China (Chinese and foreign; state-owned and private); Chinese corporate law and company structure; business relations across Greater China (PRC, Taiwan, Hong Kong); and China's relations with the United States and Europe. He has authored or co-authored more than fifty HBS cases on business in China, ranging from start-ups to SOEs; agribusiness and middle-class consumption; banking and microfinance; healthcare and education; corporate governance and corporate social responsibility; and the global strategies of Chinese firms. His current projects include case studies of trend-setting Chinese businesses and a comparative study of higher education in China, Europe, and the United States. His most recent books include Can China Lead? (Harvard Business Review Press) and China and Europe on the New Silk Road (Oxford University Press).
Kirby holds degrees from Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the Freie Universität Berlin (Dr. Phil. honoris causa), the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Dr. Phil. honoris causa), and Hong Kong Baptist University (Dr. Humanities honoris causa). He has been named Honorary Professor at Peking University, Nanjing University, Fudan University, Zhejiang University, Chongqing University, East China Normal University, the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, and National Chengchi University. He has also held appointments as visiting professor at University of Heidelberg and the Free University of Berlin. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Dr. Sunny Zhang is a founding partner at Born Global Ventures, an investment firm focused on early-stage globally scalable tech startups led by resilient immigrant entrepreneurs. She is also a tenured marketing professor at the Cameron School of Business, University of St. Thomas-Houston. Her accolades include "Outstanding Professor" for 2021-2022 in the Cameron School of Business and the 2021 "Small Business Champion of the Year" at the U.S. Small Business Administration Houston District.
Dr. Zhang specializes in venture investing and venture building with 20 years of experience in behavioral science, digital marketing, social networks, and international business. Zhang’s publications on her academic research have appeared in premium scholarly journals. She has taught at business schools for the past 19 years, including the University of Alabama, Indiana University, and Colorado State University, prior to joining the University of St. Thomas in 2012.
She is passionate about bridging gaps and closing divides for underestimated founders and underserved communities. She founded the Born Global Community (501c3), and serves as the Program Advisor of Women in AI USA, on the Board of Advisors of George H. W. Bush Foundation of U.S.-China Relations, Advisory Board at StudioHub, and Board of Directors at World Chamber of Commerce.
Dr. Zhang received her Ph.D. in Marketing with a Social Psychology minor and Master of Business from Indiana University, Bloomington, and her M.S. in Applied Psychology from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. She and her husband Sandip have two children, Eshaan and Rohaan, and a schnauzer, Bobo.
About the Moderator
David J. Firestein is the inaugural president and CEO of the George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.–China Relations and a founding and current member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors. Mr. Firestein was the founding executive director of the University of Texas at Austin’s (UT) China Public Policy Center (CPPC) and a clinical professor at UT’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. He also served as senior vice president and Perot Fellow at the New York City-based EastWest Institute (EWI).
A decorated career U.S. diplomat from 1992–2010, Mr. Firestein specialized primarily in U.S.–China relations. He is the author or co-author of three books on China, including two China-published Chinese-language best-sellers.
In the years since he left the State Department, Mr. Firestein has produced path-breaking Capitol Hill testimony, thought leadership, and scholarship on a wide range of topics, including U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, U.S.–China trade, the role of national exceptionalism as a driver of major international conflict, the value of government, U.S. public diplomacy in the wake of 9/11, and the use of contemporary country music as presidential campaign communication. He currently serves on the boards of directors or advisors of over a dozen foreign affairs-focused, business-focused, China-focused, and Texas-focused U.S. non-profit organizations.
Mr. Firestein holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and two master’s degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.
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