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Remarks by President James Wright; October 10, 2002 at Beijing Normal University
I am deeply honored to be here today and to receive the award of "Honorary Professor" from such a distinguished university.
It is a privilege for me to extend congratulations on behalf of Dartmouth College to Beijing Normal University on your 100th anniversary. The American poet Emily Dickinson wrote in one of her poems:
In the past 100 years, Beijing Normal has truly touched the skies. This institution has educated thousands of teachers and has played a critical role in the important social and educational reforms of your nation. Consistent with your motto you have truly "studied to teach and have acted by example."
One of the examples that you have set is in your commitment to educational exchange and international understanding. As institutions of higher learning, Beijing Normal and Dartmouth College must foster the creative interchange of ideas. Our students and our faculty learn through their exposure to new ideas and new situations.
I am an American historian by training. My particular scholarly area of interest is the history of US political parties and reform movements as well as the history of the American West. I have written on the Populists and the Progressives and have an abiding interest in the ways in which popular, grassroots movements have had an impact on the history of the US. Today, of course, I am an academic administrator, but I am also still a historian. My passion for the past continues, albeit with more of a focus on the history of my institution and the ways it has reflected national themes – and even helped to shape them.
Dartmouth and BNU, and indeed any institution of higher learning, do not exist in isolation from the history of their country — indeed they are very much of the world. President Zhong Binglin noted in his address at your Centennial that "the one hundred year's history of Beijing Normal University not only epitomizes the development of Chinese contemporary higher education on teacher training, but also acts as a lively historical record of the ways which the Chinese have been exploring to modernize China by promoting education." For the past 100 years, Beijing Normal, whatever its name has been, has focused on its purpose — the education of teachers and this university has played a key role in providing academic leadership.
Let me tell you a little more about the history of my institution. Founded in 1769, on the eve of the American Revolution, the last colonial college, Dartmouth has grown alongside the nation for the past 233 years. Like BNU, the history of the College has helped to shape that of the US; more often, the nation's history has shaped the College's trajectory.
Many of our graduates played a critical role in determining those histories. In the Dartmouth College Case of 1819, Daniel Webster, one of our most distinguished alumni, defended the school's independence against the state of New Hampshire. The case is considered one of the most important and formative in United States constitutional history because of the way it protected private contracts from the infringements of the state. Daniel Webster went on to become one of the foremost statesmen of his time.
During the American Civil War, hundreds of Dartmouth graduates (652) went off to fight for the Union in support of democratic republican government and in opposition to slavery, although the president of the College at that time, Nathan Lord, was a defender of slavery. Embarrassed by their president and his views, the Trustees of the College, finally forced Nathan Lord to resign his position in 1863.
The history of Dartmouth College, and indeed of American Higher Education in general, is about more than just the history of individual graduates. It is rather a story of expanding accessibility, of expanding opportunities. Dartmouth was founded as an institution to educate Native Americans and was one of the first to admit African Americans when Edward Mitchell was admitted in the 1820s. Daniel Webster was white, but he came from a poor farming family and his family made enormous sacrifices to send him to College.
In the late nineteenth century, Dartmouth began to admit students from across the country and even the world, including China — Lin-Yi Ho from Shanghai arrived in 1907 and studied at Dartmouth for one year. Through the early 20th century, the College expanded its scholarship programs to ensure that qualified students from poor families could attend. A generous scholarship program ensured that any qualified student could attend Dartmouth regardless of their financial background and today, Dartmouth remains one of only a handful of schools across the United States that admits students regardless of family income and then meets 100 percent of a student's need.
American institutions of higher education have opened their doors to people from all walks of life. In the 1960s and 1970s Dartmouth recommitted itself to its charter goal by enrolling more African American and Native American students. In the early 1970s Dartmouth began to admit women. Today, 50 percent of undergraduate students are women, 30 percent are students of color, and 6 percent are international students. This is the highest that it has been.
Dartmouth's commitment to diversity is about more than simply educating students from diverse backgrounds. Students like Lin-Yi Ho and all the international students we enroll today enrich Dartmouth by their very presence. Our students learn so much from each other and the more diverse our student body the more they learn.
Education must be about more than enabling personal ambition and the education of individuals. Our students go out into the world carrying with them a commitment to education and to service. One purpose we have advanced at Dartmouth is internationalism — which is about thinking beyond the parochial and the personal. President Jiang Zemin said at your recent centenary celebration "educational innovation should be geared . . . towards the outside world and towards the future." And he went on to say that we must "keep an eye on the general trend of education throughout the world and draw upon the fruits of different civilizations and other countries' good experience." This is a good advice for all of us.
Dartmouth's own history with China underlines this very theme. Charles Daniel Tenney graduated from Dartmouth in 1878, and in 1882 he came to China. He came as a missionary with all of the preconceptions and misunderstandings of the West. But he quickly grew to love this country and he decided to stay and to bring up his own children here. He proposed to devote himself to education. After just a couple of years, he left the mission and established a school for Chinese children. President Jiang said here that "teachers are important creators and disseminators of knowledge who bridge the past, present, and future." Charles Tenney was one such teacher.
He soon came to the attention of Li Hung Chang and later still was appointed by the Chinese government as president of Peiyang University, a position he held for 10 years. Peiyang, which later became Teintsin University, was the first modern university in China, founded in 1895. Dr. Tenney developed a great reverence for Chinese ideals and the Chinese people and always worked to further the education of the young.
Education must not only expand opportunity it must also expand knowledge, and this process requires an openness to new ideas. While Dr. Tenney helped to carry western educational ideas to China, other scholars began to bring Asian ideas to Dartmouth. American colleges and universities began to introduce what today we call the social sciences - economics, modern history, anthropology, sociology, and political science - as well as modern languages into the curriculum in the late nineteenth century. The then president of Dartmouth, William Jewett Tucker, insisted that students needed to know more about the world they lived in and he set out to broaden the educational experience for his students. As part of this plan, he introduced the study of Asian languages, literature, history, and philosophy, and by so doing, Dartmouth became one of the first American institutions to have an Asian Studies program.
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