Engineering change. China's Qinghua University broke with tradition when it hired Gavriel Salvendy (pictured) to run its industrial engineering program.

Westerner Named to Chinese University Post

FONT SIZE=-1>BEIJING--China's prestigious Qinghua University made history this month by appointing an American scientist to lead its industrial engineering program, the first time a foreigner has headed an academic department in China since the Communists came to power in 1949. The newcomer is Gavriel Salvendy of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana; he will divide his time between Qinghua in Beijing and Purdue.

Salvendy, an expert in human-machine interactions and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, adds his Qinghua duties to an already full plate as the NEC professor of industrial engineering at Purdue and founding editor of three international journals. He says that his work with "phenomenal" graduate students from Qinghua convinced him to take the job. His annual salary of $100,000--more than 10 times that of the average Chinese academic--will go to a fund to support his Purdue lab.

Salvendy's appointment is part of a larger effort by Qinghua, already regarded as China's top technology school, to recruit outsiders to further raise the quality of its academic programs. "I'm the guinea pig," says the 63-year-old Salvendy, who was born in Czechoslovakia, raised in Israel, and trained in Europe before coming to Purdue in 1971. Qinghua officials say they plan to offer key positions to as many as 50 leading Western scholars in the next 5 years, financed by contributions from wealthy overseas Chinese and domestic companies. "We wish to build up our industrial engineering department to international standards in education and research as soon as possible," says Lin Heng, vice chair of the new department.

As part of that ramp-up, Salvendy has already hired nine new faculty. All are native Chinese--"I didn't have the option of hiring from the outside," he says. But greater interaction with the United States is a priority. "Each year we will have three U.S. professors teaching and working in China for 1 month, and there will also be a student exchange program between the two universities. The idea is to move totally to English instruction within 3 years." Being an outsider may even work to his advantage, Salvendy says. "You know," he jests, "that companies always listen more closely to consultants than to their own people."

With reporting by Yang Jianxiang in Beijing.

Related sites

Qinghua University
Gavriel Salvendy's home page