Thursday, November 3, 2011

In Defense of My Chinese Students

You may have read The New York Times article, which was written in collaboration with The Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled, The China Conundrum, which notes that, because of the reputation of he US higher education system, among other reasons, the number of Chinese undergraduates in the United States has tripled in just three years, to 40,000, making them the largest group of foreign students at American colleges.

The article, however, is very negative and highlights the use of intermediaries or education "agents" who are helping certain families in China, who have the financial funds, to navigate the US college admissions systems, and to have the writing of the college application essays "outsourced."

The article also singles out the University of Delaware and has quotes from its President, Dr. Patrick Harker, who many of us in the operations research and management science community know quite well. Not only was he a Dean of the Wharton School at UPenn but he was also the editor of one of our flagship journals, Operations Research.

And, as I sometimes tell my graduate students, he even did research and published on traffic network equilibrium and variational inequalities. You can see some of our common references and citations to each other's work in our earlier publications.

Harker, as President of the University of Delaware, started the Path to Prominence there in which a more international student body is being emphasized, including having more students from China.

The challenges now being faced are vividly noted in the article, as the population of Chinese students has grown from a handful to hundreds at Delaware.

I am writing in defense of the Chinese students that I know and have worked with personally over many years. (As an aside, one of our neighbors graduated from the University of Delaware last year and received a fabulous education there. In addition, we know of several from our area who applied but then decided to come to neighboring colleges instead). Furthermore, a person I truly admire who is head of the lower school at The Bement School, my daughter's elementary school alma mater), Ms. Carole Pennock, is an alumna of Delaware.

I am writing about my doctoral students.

Our program at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst is highly selective and each and every doctoral student that we admit in Management Science is interviewed, typically, by several faculty members. Yes, that consists of multiple long telephone conversations (sometimes unannounced) to China and other countries and, if feasible, face to face meetings or personal recommendations from colleagues in the US who might have met with the prospective students. Also, we follow up with the writers of the letters of recommendation.

My doctoral students from China have done path-breaking research and now many are professors themselves at US universities. They have garnered national and international research awards and are also outstanding teachers.

Three of the books that I have co-authored, have been co-authored with my former Chinese doctoral students: Supernetworks: Decision-Making for the Information Age, with Dr. June Dong, Projected Dynamical Systems and Variational Inequalities with Applications, with Dr. Ding Zhang, and Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies in an Uncertain World, with Dr. Qiang "Patrick" Qiang.

Other doctoral students that I have had from China, including Dr. Zugang "Leo" Liu and Dr. Jie Pan, with whom I wrote articles for such top journals as Operations Research and Naval Research Logistics, did truly brilliant research. Dr. Jie Pan had listened to 4 hours of English radio in China daily before matriculating at UMass Amherst and his English was so good that, even as a graduate student, he was asked to teach at Amherst College.

Presently, I am supervising several doctoral students from China and we all work closely with one another at the Supernetwork Center.

I cannot ask for a more conscientious, well-spoken, hard-working, and reliable set of students.

I forwarded The China Conundrum article to my present students from China, knowing that it would be painful for them -- as it was for me -- to read.

I repost below parts of a message that I received, in response.

Professor Nagurney:

I had heard of this even when I was in China. Some parents are so happy to pay huge amounts of money for the consulting.

However, students who really have an idea about what they are going to do in the future, and why they are coming to the US, will not let the agencies do their admissions and decide on their future. I know some students whose parents are very wealthy and, surprisingly, they want to come to the US for fun, luxury, traveling, and a "beautiful" degree. They have asked the agencies for help. Study and research are obviously not their main concerns here..

They are taking this precious study opportunity for granted.

People make their own choices.

Sometimes we need money to buy education, but we cannot use money to insult education.

My daughter is now a senior in High School and is applying this year to colleges.

I hope that when she is in college she has a chance to learn from faculty as outstanding as the above professors (as well as my doctoral students) who were born in China!

Of course, as we all know, college admissions are a selective process.