On the walls of the stunning new multimillion-dollar Stanford Center here are hand-painted Chinese landscapes and scenes from the Palo Alto campus—signs of a new cross-Pacific partnership that offers great promise as well as some perils for the university.
The facility—which provides Stanford with its first center for research and teaching for its faculty and students in China but will not offer degrees—blends traditional Chinese courtyard architecture and state-of-the-art classroom technology. It is an experiment that will begin in just a few weeks, when the initial wave of Stanford faculty begin arriving to use it for the first time as a base for research and lectures.
Located on the grounds of a former imperial palace at Peking University, the $7 million donor-funded center will give Stanford faculty and students direct exposure to the world's second-largest economy. But there are risks, university officials admit, because Stanford is setting up a permanent presence in a country that routinely restricts free speech and political activities, censorship that is anathema to the missions of elite U.S. colleges.
But as China's global influence increases, institutions like Stanford want a foothold in the nation to enhance the educational experiences of its students, increase research opportunities for faculty, attract more wealthy and smart Chinese to their campuses and, in some cases, tap funds available from the cash-rich government.