Universities 'should be open to any discussion', Harvard president tells China's Tsinghua University

Harvard president expounds intellectual freedom to Tsinghua faculty and students

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 March, 2015, 11:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 March, 2015, 6:03am


The president of Harvard University yesterday told students at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University that academic institutions must be unfettered places where any topic could be raised to help tackle challenges such as climate change.

Drew Gilpin Faust's comments were part of a 30-minute speech on climate change, during which she urged universities in both China and the United States to collaborate on research and on teaching the next generation to deal with climate change.

"Knowledge emerges from debate, from disagreement, from questions, from doubt, from recognising that every path must be open because any path might yield an answer," she said.

Faust's speech at President Xi Jinping's alma mater came a day after she met Xi for discussions on China-US cooperation in higher education and the threat of climate change.

"Universities must be places where any and every topic can be broached, where any and every question can be asked," Faust told the faculty and students of Tsinghua University. "Universities must nurture such debate because discoveries come from the intellectual freedom to explore that rests at the heart of how we define our fundamental identity and values."

Her comments contrast with efforts by the Chinese leadership under Xi to impose a more doctrinaire approach to education and to purge campuses of what has been labelled Western liberalism.

Since Xi took power in late 2012, some outspoken Chinese professors have been marginalised, silenced or expelled from their institutions.

Economics professor Ilham Tohti, an ethnic Uygur scholar who had advocated for the rights of the Uygur minority, was sentenced last year to life in prison on separatism charges.

This is Faust's second trip to Tsinghua as Harvard president. Her last visit was in 2008. Faust met this time with Harvard alumni in China. She also invited Xi to visit the Ivy League school, where his daughter has studied.