The University of Iowa

Editorial: UI trip to Asia exotic, but necessary

June 8th, 2012

By DI Editorial Staff, The Daily Iowan

OK, obviously, going to Asia and visiting some of the hot spots such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Shanghai, and Beijing would be the cat's pajamas. And, obviously, doing it on the UI Foundation's dime would be the bee's knees.

But it won't be all sake and dim sum for President Sally Mason and the UI delegation heading off to those four places in order to recruit students and strengthen ties with Chinese interests.

Presidential fundraising and the UI Foundation have both taken a few shots as of late, but anyone knows that in order to run a business, such as a Board of Regents' university in the state of Iowa, you have to keep the wheels greased and the investors happy — and that takes a little schmoozing.

The upcoming trip to Asia, one of the fastest growing economic markets in the world, is exactly what the UI Foundation should spend its money on. And don't worry, this is the kind of thing the Foundation was created for.

"Generally, the Foundation helps to pay for outreach events that are university-wide in nature (not for a specific UI college, for example) and at which President Mason, UI Foundation President and CEO Lynette Marshall, and a top leader from the UI Alumni Association all speak," Forrest Meyer, the executive director for the strategic communications at the Foundation, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan.

This trip to Asia represents the exact sort of investment in the university the Foundation should make.

Tom Moore, the UI spokesman, said the trip gives university a chance to reach out and be visible in one of the most vigorous and fastest emerging economies around the globe.

"It's a fertile ground with a growing desire to have high-quality educational experiences," Moore said, "We have a chance to grow a fine crop of students."

This trip continues to strengthen already existing ties. The university has 13 formal agreements with China concerning education, including 95 study-abroad programs in fields from engineering and business to creative writing.

The time spent during this trip, Moore said, will be spent meeting with donors and alumni to gather fiscal support for UI students and graduates in this region. Mason is set to give the commencement speech for graduating M.B.A. students, along with cultivating new internship programs with companies in the region.

And, if you think about it, it's nothing more than a bowl trip for UI, just set in a different hemisphere. The president and other top UI officials — such as Marshall, Provost Barry Butler, and Sarah Gardial, the newly appointed dean of the Tippie College of Business — will raise money and ask for contributions, which usually totals to a net of $280 million in that region, Moore said.

But it's not just about UI students over there — it's also about the students Asia sends to us.

Around half of the international students on campus are from Asia, around 1,700 who study and work in the Iowa City area. This means a good, stable relationship with their home governments, along with the thousands of donors and alumni now living in Asia, is more than necessary. The money on this trip will not be wasted but invested into the future of both the university and the students who graduate from it.

Many American-based companies recruit top students from universities who can play on a global scale. Graduates from all over the world compete for positions at Google, IBM, and Microsoft, and with more than 6 million graduates joining the labor market each year, UI needs to come out and show its support. That's exactly what this trip is showing.

The United States is at a trade imbalance of around $67 trillion already this year according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means we are importing about six times as much as we are exporting in trade with China, putting us right on track with last year's trade deficit. It's up to such institutions as universities to make up for that deficit in any way possible, and with this trip, UI is taking one step in doing that.

With around 1,200 alumni and donors being visited in around 10 days, the trip will be a little more than just a walk on the Great Wall. The university wants to "stick with what's working and continue the success" it's had in the past with the region, Moore said.

So, yeah, it may be a fun and exotic job, this whole going to China thing — but there is no doubt it's a job, and a necessary one at that.