Yangcheng Evening News reports: “Students are tigers, professors are immortals, and the university president is a dog.” Tsinghua University President Chen Jining used this metaphor to describe the anti-administrative trend in higher education recently while acting as a representative to the National People’s Congress. The comments left many internet users speechless, some feeling that the comparison was too self-effacing, others feeling it was an attempt to drum up sympathy. How can we properly interpret the comment, “the University president is a dog”? On March 13, representatives from the National People’s Congress and committee members from the CPPCC interviewed by Yangcheng Evening News expressed different opinions on this issue.
A dog needs people to feed it and listens to its master
“The phrase sounds a bit vulgar, but it’s really right,” said the NPC representative from Huanan Agricultural University, Vice President Wu Hong to Yangcheng Evening News reporters. According to Wu, the former President of Zhongshan University Huang Daren said, “I am the president of the department heads, not the president of the professors.”
Wu Hong believes that “dog” has two levels of meaning. At one level, “dogs need people to feed them”, and schools are dependent on the students and teachers within them. A school can’t improve without high-quality teachers and students with good grades, and a university president can’t get a raise until a school improves. On another level, “dogs serve their masters, they do what their masters tell them to do.” On campus, the specialist status of professors is indeed higher than that of a president.
Wu Hong says that comparing professors to immortals is explaining how they remain aloof. “There are differences between dogs and humans, and there are differences between humans and immortals. Immortals can be blindly worshiped by people, they’re a kind of mythical thing. Although they don’t actually exist, they are the representatives of wisdom. Professors posses wisdom, and immortals are unapproachable. We worship them, and don’t even talk about university presidents. That’s how I understand his words.”
But to Gu Yeli, CPPCC member and Vice President of Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, this analogy is not at all a suitable way to describe the manager that is a university president. Dogs and immortals can’t be compared.
It’s hard to downgrade administration
Wu Hong told reporters, “A university is a small society. It needs management, but it’s not the same kind of administrative management used in actual society. An administrator wants operations to be under the control of its own students and faculty, and strengthens scholarship and academics for that purpose. But if every administrative department and function in a school is discarded, a school will fall to pieces.”
“University professors are in fact the masters, and a university president must listen to them.” Wu Hong said that development of academics and research, as well as the evaluation of academic results, are all decided by experts, and that a university president’s main responsibilities are focused on logistics. It is a role wholly focused on service. “The everyday lives of students and faculty are managed by the university president, who deploys resources according to need, takes care of all the different functional departments within the school, facilitates academic research, and at the same time serves the students and professors.”
As for the issue of anti-administrative trends, Gu Yeli feels that it is not at all “anti-administrative”, and that management is necessarily administrative, but that academic administration is different. “A university is an academic community, and necessarily revolves around academics, but what does administration bring? Our university leaders are provincial-level cadres since our school is a provincial-level work unit. There are levels of management, and management can’t get away from their levels. In a way, you could say, their eyes can only look up, and up is just not where [the people in] a school are. We should look down to see a school, look at professors, students, and teachers. But because of the current levels of administrative division, administrators can’t focus on the right people. Those are the facts.”
Reporters found that there have already been large advances in higher education anti-administrative reform. For example, at South China Agricultural University, not a single member of the academic committee is a Communist Party member, and professors can judge academic questions completely based on their own abilities and backgrounds. The academic degree committee contains five Communist Party members, and the academic advising committee has only one. Guangdong University of Foreign Studies has a voting system for the members of their academic committee, with a strict ratio of cadres among their leaders, slowly working toward the modernization of their university system.
Original Publication Date: 3/14/2013