The Backdoor to a Master’s Degree

I’m not a very conventional person. Part of the reason why is because it’s fun, but most of it is because I don’t know the proper way to do things. Unconventional is my life in Tsinghua.

As an exchange student from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I had no restrictions on the type of courses I could take. I only had two major regulations: I must take 12 to 18 credits. I can take no more than 8 credits outside my major. In other words, I had lots of room to be unconventional.

The first week of classes here was a nightmare.

The course registration site crashed because the servers couldn’t handle the number of students logging in at the same time. The finalized course list was only available on the course registration site. There was no English translation of the course list. Panicking, I translated the courses and the course syllabuses with my broken Chinese, picked as many journalism courses as I could and hoped for the best.

Tsinghua has a two week time period to sample classes. In those two weeks I flew through about 10 different classes and bought textbooks and completed the first week’s homework for a good half of each of those classes. After realizing it took me thirty minutes to fully comprehend one page of text in Chinese, I decided I couldn’t take courses taught in Chinese.

My finalized course list for the semester is as such: Business and Finance Reporting, Economics and Finance for Journalists, and Mass Communications and Contemporary Chinese Society, and Oral Chinese. All the courses are under Tsinghua’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications except for the Chinese class.

A lot of people ask me why I decided to study journalism in China. China is a black hole for Journalism as we understand it in the U.S: As a journalist, you’re always fighting against censorship. You face difficulties in finding information online. You never know when you’re too political. You can get kicked out of the country at any time. Your stories don’t seem relevant to 95 percent of the American population.

Despite all that, I still decided to study journalism Tsinghua University. In 2002, Tsinghua established a journalism and mass communications academy. In 2007, it started a two year master’s program in Global Journalism. The program is sponsored by big names like Bloomberg, Bank of America, the Knight Foundation and Deloitte. These names, make the institution seem open.

But, interestingly, Liu Binjie, the former minister of China’s General Administration of Press and Publication—the censorship department of the Chinese government—was Dean of School of Journalism and Communications in 2012, the same year Xi Jinping, the president of China, stepped into office. I note this because veteran China journalists, say that the control of media in China has been tightening since Xi has stepped into office. Liu is the one that is leading the ideology of Tsinghua’s school of journalism and mass communications. Is it a big deal? How are his experiences reflected in the leadership of the department here? How much does it matter? Are these the right questions I should be asking?

What happens in the high level decision I probably won’t ever know. It’s been difficult to find Professor Liu to spare a chat. But, experiencing the training that is accepted by this institution will help me better understand the media system in China. I never really put much thought into the administration and history of an institution until I came here.

Media regulation in modern China is a key part of the government. Since the foundation of the Communist Party of China (CCP), utilizing media was a big part of uniting the nation. In the 1930s, during the civil war with the Nationalist Party of China (the one with Chiang Kai-shek) the CCP was on the brink of disintegration. The Nationalists bullied the CCP into the desolate northwestern China. By then, the CCP had little weapons, little infrastructure, little money.

Media and mass communications was the only weapon they had. They were phenomenal with it. From the very beginning, high standing individuals in the CCP made decisions on how media should be made, who should make it, and what can be said to create the idealized image of China. That mindset towards the media as a weapon is still very apparent China today as we can see with heavy-handed censorship and overly positive news reports. My logic follows that tracing the media system in China still reflects the political mindset, internal conflicts and wishes of the party. And today, added onto the media system is a visible platform for the public to communicate back to the official image of China, the internet.

My classmates here too, I’m very interested in them. There are from good mix of nations: Russia, France, Slovakia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Pakistan, Italy, U.S., Korea, and China. I’d say of the 40 classmates that I’ve been able to share a conversation with, most are studying here for practical reasons, a switch in career, a boost in English language reporting, or a prestigious name to put onto their resume. I do get a vibe that they’re not satisfied with the reporting at home. They want to make a difference in the reporting back at their home.

So it is to this school, with an odd mix of Bloomberg terminals in our classrooms, and lecturers from American universities – that I as journalism student would like to learn from like, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and the University of Pennsylvania – Annenberg School for Communications – that I found a backdoor into though my exchange as a student from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Orgially posted on Study Abroad Correspondents @ International Academic Programs, University of Wisconsin Madison

Chinatown, New York: the engine that has completed its 100 year service

It was late in the morning. I was waiting for my mother’s friend in the bustling cosmopolitan center of New York, Manhattan. But tucked in Chinatown, the people moved slowly. The buildings were old and worn. The place seemed old and exhausted. Manhattan’s Chinatown is fading.

My mother’s friend was running late, so I entered the nearest cafe to kill some time. I ordered a coffee and sat down.

On the right, were four long aged tables. Elderly Chinese cooped together in their puffy, desaturated winter coats that engulfed the tiny stools they sat on. To the left are glass displays overstuffed with of baked goods. In the back, was an open kitchen framed by no less than ten pages of menu options. The window in front of me framed a spread of vintage red green and yellow neon signs stacked upon each other.

There was an odd familiarity of all this. It was the China from my parent’s favorite 1960s and 70s Hong Kong gangster films captured on VHS that we frequently watched on our dim living room television set.

Chinatown reflected how Chinese immigrants remembered and created the home they wish they had for more than 100 years. It was built and maintained by generations of young outcasts from a long period of social crises in China—the fall of the last emperor, a failed revolution, a World War sandwiched between two civil wars, and hyper-socialist policies—who creatively squeezed through American immigration restrictions.

When they arrived in the U.S., these early Chinese immigrants defaulted to starting their own business. Working for others was difficult due to their poor English and discriminatory wages enforced upon them. The Chinatown community grew as older generations passing on their expertise maneuvering through America’s sticky anti-immigration policies.

However by 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act, significantly increased the immigration quota for Chinese. A surge of new Chinese immigrants began to flood the U.S: the professionally trained entrepreneurs and the well-off looking for a better living standards.

According to the 2013 immigration report by the Population Division of the New York City Department of City Planning, the average annual income of new Chinese immigrants is $42,766, that’s well above the middle class in China. They’re well educated, 47 percent hold a bachelor’s degree, and emigrate into the states in their late 40’s with secure occupations.

Across from to me in the cafe, the neighborhood ladies gossiping about the city pulled out latest copy of the local Chinese newspaper. The headline read “Chinese Restaurant Owner Robbed.”

I began to eavesdrop as one of the ladies spoke, “Did you hear that the old restaurant got robbed earlier? People think we have money here, but the rent just so high. How do they expect us to live here?”

According to a 2008 report by the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, an Asian American advocacy group, increasing has forced the business owners in Chinatown are forced to abandon their community. The owners of these fading establishments are aging with their business as the younger generations are unwilling to upkeep the change. As the old establishments sell out, this district of Manhattan has been increasing development and building permits. New luxury apartments and tourist hotels have replaced old staple stores.

Eventually my mother’s friend arrived and praised my choice in cafe. Normally youngsters choose cafes that charge triple the price for the polished, glossy, ambiance.

I asked her about the conditions of this Chinatown. She told me it was better this way. Her daughters have a stable job. She discouraged her kids from following her footsteps, running a restaurant. Even she lost hope in Chinatown. She now picks up jobs in hospitality services. They recently moved into house to call their own in Brooklyn. She tells me leaving behind this excluded place is a sign that things are getting better for the Chinese.

Perhaps, this Chinatown community that grew out of survival is no longer necessary. Perhaps, a few decades from now Manhattan’s Chinatown will only be a myth, a story of an engine that could once help a family jump to the highest socioeconomic class within one generation for the past 100 years.

Before right-to-work think balance and checks

It sounds nice. Like a pill, an easy and painless cure to the decaying economy, the right-to-work law will move Wisconsin forward by creating new jobs. That’s what our neighbors in Michigan and Indiana might say as proponents of the right-to-work act. On the other hand, opponents believe that the right-to-work bill will significantly stunt wages and scrape off the employee rights. These oversaturated assertions from both sides require some dilution.

The right-to-work law gives private-sector employees the decision to join and contribute to the services provided by labor unions. Wisconsin is nearing the passage of this law. The bill passed the Senate last week 17-15. The Assembly, on Wednesday afternoon, will have an opportunity to make adjustments to and vote on the bill. If adjustments are made, the Senate will vote again.

Rewind to 2012, when Michigan and Indiana underwent the very same debates with the very same talking points that are now being fired in Wisconsin. It’s been two years. Evidence of what right-to-work actually does for the economy is inconclusive. Matter of fact, in the past year, the unemployment rate in Indiana has leveled off while Wisconsin and Michigan continued to drop. It’s difficult to link any trends in the employment rate or the economy to the single act of turning into a right-to-work state. Moreover, it is questionable whether the demographics, economic environment, and social programs can be transplanted from one state in place of another state for comparison. It’s just not that simple.

To the proponents of right-to-work, it seems as though this is the only way to invigorate the economy by creating new jobs. But, there are a number of different ways stimulate the economy, attract new business, and outcompete neighboring states like tax breaks or targeted state-sponsored initiatives, strategies where Wisconsin is already leading the way.

It is true, however, that we should be wary of the fees paid to Unions. In the past, labor unions were stained with corruption. It was once common practice that unions collected donations out of membership fees to lobby for representatives that favor the authority of labor unions, whether or not the union members, the individual employees, agreed with the positions of these representatives.

But therein comes in the Taft Hartly act of 1953.

This is the act that allowed states to place right-to-work laws because of the previous legal slant in favor of labor unions. More importantly, this is the act that created the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to act as the arbitrator between union members, labor unions and employers. This is the system in place to keep labor unions in check.

Perhaps right-to-work doesn’t sound too terrible since only about 11 percent of the American workforce is a part of a Union. However, for those that are a part of Unions, they are crucial. If there would be a disagreement between employees and employers, unions step in to act as the representative body to voice concerns of the employees to the employers, and then to the government if there are further disputes. By putting these responsibilities in the hands of unions, employees don’t have to worry about losing a job from bringing out their workplace concerns. They don’t have to learn the legal playbook to argue for better working conditions. They don’t lose hours of their paycheck. They can continue work as usual as the union representatives argue their case.

Unions will attempt to provide these services whether or not the right-to-work bill passes. However, the key to the issue is the fact that employees will no longer be obligated to pay for the services provided to them by unions. Should the right-to-work bill pass, and should employees decide not to contribute to unions, the money will not be there for the unions to supply these services. No longer will the labor unions nor employees have the resources to keep their employers in check.

Unions are most crucial in the battles between employees and the big businesses. When employees are competing with big businesses. Unions are necessary to finance, organize, and implement the calls for change to put employees on a level playing field as their employers. They are key to providing a system of checks and balances between the employee and the employer.

How a streetcar can affect Milwaukee

After more than a decade of deliberation, Milwaukee has latched onto the transnational trend of implementing streetcars as catalysts for economic growth.

The Milwaukee Common Council on February 10th approved the 2.5-mile streetcar project connecting downtown Milwaukee and the lower east side in a 9-6 vote, claiming that the streetcar will drive economic growth. With the recent developments, an anti-streetcar movement began to gain traction throughout January. Opponents of the streetcar believe that the money could be better spent on improving the current public bus system and repairing intercity roads.

Here are the facts. Funding of the streetcar will be 80 percent federal and 20 percent local. Much of the federal support is legally tied to funding a streetcar, and a streetcar only. The local funds will be gathered by increasing the taxes on the downtown areas that will benefit from the streetcar. Technically no money will be lost or gained for any current public projects. The streetcar is designed to supplement buses in niche parts of the city. The building of the streetcar will occur concurrently with the developments in high traffic highways and the improvement of bus quality through federal grants.

The streetcar trend was made possible in part by grants from the federal government U.S. that have been available since 2009. Since then, more than 18 streetcar projects across the nation have received grants, according to the Federal Transit Administration.

Cities comparable to Milwaukee, like Portland and Seattle, have seen growth in their employment rates alongside already established forms of public transit like buses and subways. Milwaukee is one of the more densely populated cities in the U.S. and of the few without an alternative public transportation system.

But even without a transportation revamp, Milwaukee has regained economic footing as the national U.S. economy stabilized. It is worth debating whether or not Milwaukee needs a streetcar to develop.

There are two ways to look at streetcars.They can be seen as simply as an alternative public transit that takes commuters from point A to point B. Then there is also a more cultural view with the purpose of a streetcar reshaping the norms and habits in a specific area by building it alongside concurrent development projects. This approach takes the streetcar as more of a public contract for future development in a specific area. It’s important to clarify that the two views of streetcars are not mutually exclusive of one another.

Mainstream media often played up the role of streetcars attracting and transmitting millennials into developing cities. Even the official website of the new Milwaukee Streetcar embraces the belief that the streetcar will “attract and retain young talent needed to grow Milwaukee’s economy, support the creative class and fuel a culture of entrepreneurship.” Having a streetcar in a buzzing economic location is a logical decision. Scott Drewianka, associate professor of demographic economics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, agrees.

“My guess is that streetcars would be more popular and effective when they cover a route that many people want to travel, run frequently, and are safe and inexpensive, and also when other means of transport are less convenient, for example when traffic is congested or it is hard to park,” he wrote in an e-mail.

However, according to the 2010 census data, the age demographics between Milwaukee and Portland are similar with or without streetcars.

In 2012 the CATO Institute, a libertarian think-tank, released a research report criticizing the role of streetcars stimulating the economy. The real problem that comes with developing around a streetcar is that as the areas around the streetcar develop, neighboring areas without the economic stimulus will be out-competed. If transportation is an issue in a developing city, the report suggests reinvigorating areas of the city with low employment by expanding the bus systems rather than investing in a new transit system in an already economically booming location.

Portland, often cited as the original success story of streetcars, saw economic gains through government development subsidies worth more than the actual investment of the streetcar itself. It is clear that a streetcar, as a means of transit alone, will not bring about economic development.

Jeff Brown, department chair and associate professor at the department of urban and regional planning at Florida State University, led a case study of five cities with streetcars in the U.S. The conclusion was it depends.

The report showed Portland as the golden star of streetcar cities. But, Portland’s experience came out of a unique combination of local populations, employment patterns, land development policy decisions and public investments that may not be applicable elsewhere.

One crucial factor in Portland’s success was the fact that it had a high-speed rail already connecting the neighboring suburbs into the downtown city area. If Portland is the standard, then Milwaukee is doing this backward.

There is a reason to this in Milwaukee. In a public forum about the streetcar issue in January, Mayor Tom Barrett said the U.S. Department of Transportation is reluctant to offer further aid in Milwaukee because of the Wisconsin’s rejection of the intended $800 million grant of the 2010 high-speed rail between Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago.

More than anything else, it is the prospect of new businesses entering the city that will attract new employees. Portland had several business initiatives that encouraged development along the transit lines.

In order for Milwaukee to attract businesses, Milwaukee must rebrand itself as a modern city. Milwaukee will need some sort of investment to attract new businesses but also connect it to the surrounding neighborhoods. Reports dating back to 2008 highlight the disconnect between economic growth the inner-city areas and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Milwaukee already has several initiatives to attract new investment in the downtown area, such as the ReFresh MKE campaign, and the development of a water research business park. Kevin Muhs, a transit planner for the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, believes Milwaukee has reached its limit in terms of developing Milwaukee without a centralized transit system.

“We’ve got good bones, how do we take them further,” he said during a public forum in Milwaukee. “The streetcars are what’s going to bridge that gap. If you look at Denver, they’re just booming. It’s not just downtown but in the neighborhoods around it are connected by various fixtures of transit.”

Everything boils down to how much of an investment Milwaukee puts into the development in the area to attract future businesses, whether that be through developing areas around public transit that are supported by the federal government or city lead subsidies and improved bus services.

The Wisconsin Idea is a Wisconsin college success story

Gov. Walker’s proposed revision of the University of Wisconsin mission statement carved out the core of the Wisconsin Idea. Yet, even after a weekend of heated brushback, recalled statements, and uncovered truths, the Wisconsin Idea remains a vague or long-winded statement about service to the state (there is a 92 page report defining the Wisconsin Idea).

For clarity’s sake, the Wisconsin Idea was the fabric of kinship between an unlikely pair of Wisconsin boys; Robert M. La Follette a fiery aspiring attorney and Charles Van Hise a pragmatic geological scientist. The two were roommates and classmates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduation, Van Hise immediately began his career as an instructor. He was to spend the next years of his life committed to adapting the sciences for practical use.

Fighting Bob

“Fighting Bob” Source: Wisconsin Historical Society

La Follette began his political career as a district attorney and quickly gained a seat in the U.S. Congress. The story goes that La Follette refused to take a bribe and lost his seat at congress. Bitter, he spent the next ten years across the state of Wisconsin with his fist pounding into the air and his eyes glaring with disappointment, resentment and belief in the people of Wisconsin. He demanded political reform and social justice that was trusted by logic and reasoning. Fighting Bob, he was called. He was the Progressive era.

Those ten years won Wisconsin’s trust. La Follette became governor of Wisconsin. Van Hise became president of the University. Through a twist of fate, the two roommates were reunited under their dedication to the University and Wisconsin. They moved under a united cause; to provide data and research for citizens to make informed decisions and hold the government accountable to the people. They pushed, drafted, and created room for collaboration between state officials and university experts.

One of the first iterations of the Wisconsin Idea came through a speech by La Follette in 1901. He rallied the duty of students to give back to the state that has allowed the University to grow. In 1904, Van Hise echoed similar remarks as he began the official implementation of the Wisconsin Idea into the University. He created the Extensions Network. With this structure, the Wisconsin Idea finally took a physical form.
Researchers reached out to farmers, factories, and villages to study their needs, hear their concerns and address them as fellow citizens of Wisconsin. Few laws were passed before they had been carefully studied by the university experts. This is what is meant by “the boundaries of the state are the boundaries of the university and the service to the state.”

Wisconsin became a central model for social reform in the nation. Newly established municipal research institutions, such as Bureau of Agricultural Economics and the National Bureau of Economic Research, adopted the Wisconsin model of applied empirical research for the public. This heartfelt and idealistic idea that grew from a couple of Wisconsin boys was now being implemented across the U.S.

Van Hise and Hoover

Van Hise and President Hoover Source: UW-Madison Archives

The Wisconsin Idea is Wisconsin’s college success story that shook the nation. According to a professor at UW-Madison, instructors at the University are familiar with this success story. For many, the Wisconsin Idea is reason they chose Wisconsin over any other higher paying, prestigious schools across the U.S. Only with story and context can the essence of the Wisconsin Idea be captured.

The Chronic Malpractice of Grade Inflation in Colleges

The creation on guilds were based of the kinship between craftsmen for preserving the future of their trade. Masters of the trade would evaluate each other to embody important qualities of their profession. They took in apprentices as family, providing skills to succeed, tending their illnesses, coping with life, and granting advise.

Standardization of education has lead to the inflation of this generation’s fragile egos and accepted ignorance. Grades have long been the standard of measuring a student’s capability in a course, but what exactly are the grades measuring in relations to our education?

Today, we have students entering top-level institutions entering with their new path to education with a ripe ego. The achievement of acceptance already signals the institution’s approval of the student. People arguing for the acceptance of inflated grades at these institutions grant a pass simply because these A-grade students are simply that: A-grade students. However, if that is the case, then these students already perform at an expert level. Then, realistically,  for the development of these student’s education, there is no need for this student to further pursue the offerings at the institution. Then that takes to us, the purpose of these educational institutions.

Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Duke University, Michael Allen Gillespie, describes education as a path for youth to improve themselves though understanding their strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, it is required by educators to provide students with grades that honestly reflect the student  to show students that “they are not yet who they could be.” Although it seems understood by educators, they continue to abuse grade inflation because it is the easy way out. With this, Gillespie highlights the clash of student-teacher relationships contributing to the continuation of grade inflation.

This student-teacher relationship is key to education. We should think of colleges and universities as the guilds of today, and the students as the apprentices of now. Educators are passing on their experience to people that are capable of carrying out their expertise, and possibly surpassing them, in the future. Colleges and universities are about gaining skills to succeed in the future, not about fitting guidelines for grades.

Although Professor Gillespie points out the importance of this relationship, his solution shoots of in a different direction. Legislation, the source of funds, is the cause of the wrongs; he calls for the legislative system to provide greater regulation through a new standardized measurement. However, this would just further perpetuate the issue. As he had stated before, both the student and teacher are happy, there would be no reason to change; this inflation would remain because it works.

I would like to present a different method to receiving funds: have the students draft the grant proposals for their institution. Only students that feel that their institution has provided them with the skills and experiences to succeed will feel inclined to write on behalf of their institution. This means students that feel their encounters with their professors were meaningful and well worth their time and money. I believe this would in turn develop greater student-teacher relationships and in turn,  a more encompassing educational experience. Treat the students as members under apprenticeship rather than consumers of the institution. Bring back the humility, respect, and dignity of our education.