Faculty hear more details about new Peking University Center

Academic freedom, new collaborations and a home for Asia-based research will be at the core of the Stanford Center at Peking University.

L.A. Cicero Blacker Oi

Coit Blacker, director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and Jean Oi, a professor of Chinese politics, field questions from the Faculty Senate about the Stanford Center at Peking University.

The Stanford Center at Peking University will be a "protected space" where Stanford faculty and students can collaborate with their Chinese counterparts in a country often criticized for clamping down on intellectual freedom, officials told members of the Faculty Senate Thursday.

The new center, slated to be open by early 2012, will expand Stanford's current presence at Peking University, where students in the Bing Overseas Studies Program already take part in classes and lectures dealing with political protest and revolution.

"We teach classes the way we do at Stanford, and we've had no interference," Coit Blacker, director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, told the senate. "This is protected space."

Touting the new facility as a resource for Stanford's entire academic community, Blacker and political scientist Jean Oi described it as a home base for researchers who are doing work in China.

"This cuts the transaction costs so that any of you can go there and quickly get to work," Oi said. "You don't have to recreate the wheel, find office space and find translators." The center will have a bilingual staff to help faculty and students get the resources and materials they need.

The 30,000-square-foot facility is being built on a section of campus already under heavy renovation. The building will have a traditionally Chinese look that will surround a private courtyard. But beneath the ground floor, the state-of-the-art facility will run two stories deep and feature modern classrooms, offices and conference spaces.

Stanford students studying at Peking University will continue living in dormitories and taking classes in buildings scattered around the campus.

"We do not plan to have students in this Stanford-built cocoon," Oi said. "They'll continue to interact with Chinese and other foreign students."

The $5 million project is funded entirely from gifts made to the Stanford International Initiative. The lead donor is the charitable foundation run by the family of Chien Lee, a Hong Kong-based private investor. Lee received his bachelor's, master's and business degrees from Stanford in the 1970s and is a former Stanford trustee.

Earthquake preparedness

In other business, the senate also heard a presentation on the university's earthquake preparedness plans.

Ann Arvin, vice provost and dean of research, emphasized the need for the university's schools and departments to safeguard the nearly $370 million worth of research equipment on campus. Under the ProtectSU program, 75 percent of the cost needed to restrain and anchor equipment will be covered by the university. The balance must be covered by individual departments. Arvin said the focus is on securing equipment valued at more than $20,000.

She said it will take about three years before all of the university's equipment is properly protected against a seismic disaster.

"It's not something that's going to happen this summer," she said.

Curriculum design

Also at Thursday's meeting, a panel of faculty described the steps they are taking to redesign their curricula to better engage students.

For computer science Professor Daphne Koller, that has meant creating an interactive online learning tool to supplement her class lectures.

Edith Sheffer, an assistant professor of modern European history, has designed a project allowing her students to develop characters based in a specific historical context. By making decisions that affect the characters' lives, Sheffer's students are forced to reckon with historical events in a way they otherwise couldn't simply by reading a text.

And Banny Banerjee, an associate professor at the d.school, talked about how hands-on product design helps students "who want to change the world" develop new approaches to solving problems.

Minutes available next week

The full minutes of the meeting, including the question-and-answer sessions that followed the presentations, will be available next week on the senate's website.