David Zupko: An American working at a Chinese University compares students!

David Zupko

Dear Commons Community,

David Zupko has been a college administrator for two and a half decades, working at Loyola, at the University of Chicago, and as deputy registrar at Yale University.

Along the way, Zupko met his wife, Julia, a fellow administrator. When she took a job running career development for the Schwarzman Scholars Program, a new international college at Tsinghua University, in Beijing, Zupko and their daughters, Natalia and Josephine, came along — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the family. He originally expected to be a trailing spouse, focused on helping his children acclimate to life in China. After being hired initially for some spot work, in June he was named associate dean in the office of international affairs. He’s believed to be the first foreigner to be appointed to such a prominent post at a major Chinese university since institutions there reopened following the Cultural Revolution.  In comparing American and Chinese colleges, Zupko told The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“I keep getting questions about the differences, but really there are a lot of similarities. A difference is that you don’t see the kind of partying on campus. Students study here [Tsinghua University], and they study a lot. There isn’t this transformation that happens on Friday night or Saturday night that you see on U.S. campuses. But there are so many familiar things: You have a registrar, you have the idea of the provost. You have faculty councils and course evaluation and all these things that are familiar in the U.S. I think that’s allowed me to be successful here.

Chinese culture places tremendous importance on education. This is well known, but I didn’t really know what that meant until I came here. The idea that education is closely tied to societal contribution directly connects institutions to national goals. The link between history and societal value, and how these fundamentally define knowledge acquisition, helps shape the emerging model of higher education in China. In practice this leads to frequent re-evaluation of educational effectiveness, strengthening of programs, and a certain responsiveness to the goals of the country. I fully acknowledge my bias toward education, but given the deeply held value of education here, if you want to start to understand China, study how China educates its young people.”

I made two extended trips to Chinese universities in 2001 and 2006 and concur completely with Mr. Zupko.  Chinese students are incredibly serious.  At daybreak, you can see them studying on their campuses, reading and memorizing material.


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