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    Beautiful Campus, Beautiful Minds: Celebrating Wuhan University’s Past and Present
    Author:Science  Date:2018-12-22  Clicks:

    On December 21st, Science, the world-renowned academic journal published an exclusive interview with Dou Xiankang, President of Wuhan University. President Dou shared his observations on Wuhan Univeristy in this interview titled Beautiful Campus, Beautiful Minds: Celebrating Wuhan University’s Past and Present.

    Wuhan University is often described as having one of China’s most beautiful campuses. In the Spring, lotus flowers pop up on the small, central lake, and cherry blossoms line an avenue running below the imposing stone buildings of the Old Dormitory. If you’re willing to climb the steep stairs past the Old Dormitory — fondly known as Cherry Blossom Castle by faculty — you can gaze across to the main administrative building, and the hill covered in sun-dappled trees behind it.

    But, says Wuhan University president Xiankang Dou, there’s more to the university than just pleasant scenery.

    “When you come to Wuhan University, you’ll see that it’s beautiful and we have a great history. But that’s not enough,” he says, sitting in the main administrative building. “We are creating an environment and atmosphere where we respect knowledge and hard work.”

    Wuhan University was founded 125 years ago in Wuhan, a city of around 10 million in China’s central, landlocked Hubei province. In a sense, the campus is like a smaller version of the city itself — Wuhan is also centered around a series of lakes, including the enormous East Lake. When the university was founded, it was a little different from other universities in China. At the time, most universities focused on a single discipline, whereas Wuhan University offered accounting, business, physics, and foreign languages. That remains true today, and the university now boasts Lei Jun, the founder of smartphone maker Xiaomi, and a former prime minister of Kazakhstan among its alumni.

    “[Wuhan University] is a comprehensive university, so we have many interdisciplinary discussions. These create the uniqueness of our university. The social scientist can talk with the life scientist — this kind of mixture generates more creativity,” Dou says.“I’m really proud of our glorious past, our flourishing present, and our bright future.”

    Over its lifetime, the university has undergone many iterations: different names, different buildings—and, of course, different students and faculty. But one thing that’s stayed constant is the university’s emphasis on taking care of its students, says Dou.

    Dou points to how past presidents at Wuhan University made special efforts to look after their scholars. In the 1930s, the country was beset by the Second Sino-Japanese war, causing hardship and death around China. Nevertheless, the university continued to house its scholars in grand cottages on Luojia Hill, the sunny knoll behind the administrative building. “[It was] to show our values and attitudes towards these professors, that we wanted to continue to strengthen the foundation of our university and excel academically,” he says.

    Dou, who became president in 2016, has had an impressive academic career in his own right. He studied space physics at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), a prestigious research university in eastern Anhui province. He admits that at the time, he didn’t know exactly what he was getting into. “When I was a child, I didn’t know the difference between astrophysics and space physics,” he explains. “I liked to think about outer space, and that’s why I chose space physics.” He focused much of his research on the earth’s atmosphere, namely the stratosphere and mesosphere. In the following decades, he won numerous awards and accolades —last year he was honored by being selected as a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

    During his tenure as university president, Dou’s focus has been firmly back on earth. He’s making it his mission to attract top talent to the university and turn it into a world-class research university. To him, that requires paying attention to two things:improving the teaching facility and enhancing the living conditions and standards for students. For the latter, that means allowing students to choose their courses, as well as ensuring that they have a good studying environment. “The goal of the university is to foster young talent who can better serve society. As such, we put the students’ goals and requirements as our utmost priority,” says Dou, who personally pays attention to the condition of the students’ living quarters.

    Although Dou says he’s proud of Wuhan University, he has big plans to make it even better. “I have a dream,” he says. “Today, the competition between universities is really fierce. In the next decade, I believe and hope that we can continue to bring high-level teaching faculty to our university. This will help us to build a first-class university, respected nationally and internationally.”

    Of course, part of achieving that goal will be getting more papers published in top academic journals, says Dou. But that’s only one aspect of what he is hoping for from his academic staff. “We also believe that our faculty can focus more on the construction of our country, the development of our society, and the improvement of our economy,” Dou says.

    Dou is also keen to encourage and attract more international students — particularly those from developing countries. That’s partly to increase trust and partnerships between China and the countries in question, but also to provide students from those countries with tools that they can take back to their home companies to advance their developing medical and legal systems, he says, pointing to Africa and Southeast Asia as areas of particular interest. Already, Wuhan has large numbers of international students compared to other universities in China. To Dou, this is impressive—after all, Wuhan doesn’t have the glitzy, big-city romance of Shanghai, or the grand, historical significance of Beijing. “We are in the hinterlands of China, but we still attract an impressive number of students. That is quite unique,” he says, proudly.

    And unsurprisingly, given Dou’s own background, the university is pouring millions into developing better facilities across the sciences. According to him, Wuhan University is already one of the strongest in China for space science, and in the coming years he wants to attract more exceptional students to the university and increase cooperation with researchers in the United States and United Kingdom.

    But one thing Dou won’t be trying to do is increase student admissions. “Because I come from the smallest university in China,” he says, referring to USTC, “I don’t really have any interest in increasing the number of students at our university.” Instead, he just wants to focus on attracting the right people and making sure they are supported and encouraged adequately. “We want to turn them into the top thinkers in their fields—it’s about quality, not quantity,” he says.

    Although Wuhan University has grand plans and is certainly more than just a beautiful campus, the fact that the surroundings are aesthetically pleasing certainly doesn’t hurt. Students wander idly, taking in the last of the sun, or run around the sports track. When Dou is asked his favorite place in the university, he responds without hesitation:the boulevard of cherry blossoms, of course.

    Looking nostalgic, he recalls watching a coming-of-age film called “Girls' Dormitory,” as a college student at USTC in the 1980s, when there were few movies available in China. The film told the story of five first-year students who lived in the Old Dormitory next to the boulevard of cherry blossoms. Even now, that cherry-blossom lined avenue beside the dormitories reminds him of watching that film, and in turn, of being a youthful college student himself. The Old Dormitory exhibits a combination of Western and Chinese architecture styles, which to Dou represent both the university’s glorious history, and its modern spirit of openness and tolerance.

    “[Standing] on this boulevard, we can feel the history of Wuhan University,” Dou says, referring to the generations of students and teachers that have walked there before. “We see the past, the present, and the future of this university."



    Edited by Shen Yuxi and Hu Sijia

    Source:

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