How Risk-Averse Universities Take Risks with Satellite Campuses Abroad

EdSurge | May 15, 2018 - Like airline pilots, college leaders aren’t known for risky behavior. On the contrary, they’re a pretty cautious bunch. But when it comes to launching satellite campuses abroad, some have been flying blind.

Negotiating deals with foreign institutions, mostly in the Middle East and Asia, where 51 U.S. universities have planted college banners at 83 foreign campuses, you’d often think they lost their judgement.

In their rush to embrace globalization—newly in vogue in higher ed—they often turn a blind eye or retreat in shrouded silence when facing serious impediments; ignoring such inconvenient troubles as suppression of academic or religious freedom or accepting Communist Party officials in academic policy roles. Blown away by the hot Eastern winds of academic fashion, many lose their heads. In a recent report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office noted, for example, that while American universities operating in China say they generally experience academic freedom, they nonetheless contend with Internet censorship. Some colleges end up practicing self-censorship so as not to offend their hosts.

Senior university officials can lose a sense of their cherished defense of liberal democracy, forgetting their commitments to academic freedom to keep partnerships going. They can look the other way out of reluctance to confront their generous partners, for instance, when visas are denied, or when Party officials demand a seat the academic table. Read more.

Robert Ubell ( is vice dean emeritus of online learning at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, and author of the collection, Going Online: Perspectives on Digital Learning.