HEI’s in China & Bangladesh Are More Democratic Than US?

The answer? It depends. Definitely, China’s national government is well known to be autocratic and although the government in Bangladesh could do a lot more to protect the rights of minority populations including the million Rohingya and the 300,000 Tripuri people in Bangladesh, the US also struggles to protect the rights of minorities. It seems that democratic policy development and decision-making is much easier claim as a goal than it is to implement into practice.

Basically, everyone agrees that when you include stakeholders in decision making, it takes longer, but policy decisions are much more effective. When the UNESCO wanted to promote sustainable development in higher education, it called on a range of stakeholders. North American authors such as Michael Fullan, Jennifer Rippner, and Christina Chow & Clement Leung emphasize the importance to include stakeholders in decision making. At our own California State University, Dominguez Hills, our university vision states that the “CSUDH will be a model urban university responsive to and engaged as partners in addressing the most pressing challenges in our local and global communities.” At the College of Education, our mission, vision, and core values emphasize concepts such as “collaborating alongside communities we serve,” “co-creating,” and “collaboration…among all stakeholders.”

Recently, I was privileged to hear a presentation of faculty at Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh who presented their plans to create a masters in education. They described how they had developed a curriculum by engaging with a range of stakeholders to determine the focus of their classes. Wow, now that is democracy.

I also read an article in which Chinese and Czech authors Wang, Yang & Maresova (2020) describe how decision-making among the students, staff, and faculty (some stakeholders) led to a greater awareness and understanding of sustainable development at a Chinese university compared to another Chinese university that was more top-down. They included the a figure to the left (Koester et al., 2006) that represents internal and external stakeholders who should be engaged to promote greater success of any policy for sustainable development according to their literature review.

Recently, our College of Education developed a new policy on Reappointment, Tenure, & Promotion (RTP) as a faculty alone instead of engaging all of our stakeholders. The new policy which claims to be anti-colonial marginalizes the voice of students by reducing the value of student evaluations of professors and marginalizes the voice of our peers by reducing the value of peer reviewed journal articles. The staff and faculty in the Teacher Education Department is also in the midst of developing a new teacher credentialing curriculum without the engagement of stakeholders. Given our mission to be a “model” university, to “collaborate,” and “co-create,” I think we could do better and I hope that future curricular and policy decisions will be more democratic engaging more stakeholders.

So back to the question in the title of this post, Are Higher Education Institutions in China and Bangladesh more Democratic Than those in the US? It depends….not on the mission or vision statement, but on the engagement and dialogue of stakeholders concerning policy or curricular matters. As Peter Mayo (2020) suggests, “Praxis…finds a place in any organization or movement striving for the greater democratization of society. Democracy is seen here…as an ongoing process for the enfranchisement of different members of society.” In the context of the university, we professors are the powerful. If we are to transform and act in ways consistent with democracy and praxis, we must include more stakeholders in curricular and policy decisions.

Koester, R.J.; Eflin, J.; Vann, J. Greening of the campus: A whole-systems approach. J. Clean. Prod. 2006, 14, 769–779.

Mayo, P. (2020). Praxis in Paulo Freire’s Emancipatory Politics. International Critical Thought, 10(3), 454–472. https://doi.org/10.1080/21598282.2020.1846585

Yang, M. & Maresova, P. (2020). Sustainable Development at Higher Education in China: A Comparative Study of Students’ Perception in Public and Private Universities. Sustainability. 12. 2158. 10.3390/su12062158.

The Decline of War, Famine, and Pestilence: Is Man Now God?

Throughout almost all of human existence, survival by avoiding war, famine, and disease had to be the main focus of our lives. One hundred years ago, people were in constant knowledge that they could be struck down by some physical malady and mysteriously die in a week or days. Case in point, when I was 17 doctors took out my appendix. One hundred years earlier, I just would have died without a lot of explanation. The Black Plague killed half of the people in some towns in a matter of days. After Columbus arrived in the Americas, it is estimated that over the course of 150 years, 80-90% of Native Americans died from small pox and other diseases. Horrible as the COVID was, it only took a year to develop medical advances that significantly reduced the fatality rate. So basically, we don’t have to worry so much about dying next week from disease.

In a similar way, until 200 hundred years ago, a person was aware that war and violence could take their whole family or town at any moment. In the 14th century, roving bands of thieves simply killed all and took as much as they pleased. For example, the Vikings sailed up to the ports killing all they could and taking the wealth of the community of England and northern Europe.

Previously, people also knew that individual violence whether it be from the ruler of the area, thieves, or rivals could strike in the night unannounced at any time. While we are increasingly aware and shocked by violence and war today, Harari, in his book Homo Deus, puts it all into proportion by noting that in 2012 when 56 million people died only 120,000 died from war and 500,000 died from crime. So actually less than 2% of the deaths were caused by violence. So while violence is still a problem, compared to the 800,000 who died of suicide and 1.5 million who died of diabetes, it becomes clear that we need to shift our attention to focus more on mental and physical health needs of people.

Finally, people in the past were always aware that in any year, storms, draught, animals, or insects at any time might play a role to reduce the food any community had. Money, if it existed at all, it was somewhat unreliable as was transportation of food to different areas of famine. We still have pockets of malnutrition today in America where 1 in 5 children are at risk and especially among children in developing countries; however, compared to for example the late 1600s in which between 15% and 30% of the populations in Europe starved, many fewer people starve today. In fact, the opposite might be true. Maybe we are eating ourselves to death. Harai estimates that half of the people on the earth are estimated to be overweight by 2030. We also know that being overweight puts people at a greater risk of heart attacks and cancer. So it appears to that having too much food is a much greater problem than having too little food.

Because man no longer has to worry so much about disease, war, and famine, Harari suggests that ‘man is god’ and will play a larger role in the future of the world. Since one of the main goals of critical literacies is to provide different perspectives as a way of comprehending texts, below I focus briefly on two different perspectives that challenge the status quo. First, as chronicled above, in Homo Deus, Harari challenges the status quo perception that the world is getting worse. Even with COVID, inequity, racial tensions, hunger, and worries about clean water, the long arc of history is bending so that people can focus much less on survival and much more on enriching their lives. Harari’s comments challenge the status quo view that the world is getting worse and worse.

Secondly, while Harari’s book Homo Deus (translated from Latin as man god) implies that man will be god of the future. On the contrary, it seems that we were never more in need of the inspiration of God to guide us on the path of freedom, peace, joy, mercy, care, and equity. The glory that comes from domination, wealth, or national pride is not God inspired and leads to dishonor and perdition. When we serve God, we are free from the need to impress others, free from the need for fancy cars or homes. If man is so dominant in our world as Harari suggests, without spiritual inspiration, man’s selfish nature will lead to self-destruction. Man’s values of prestige and status will never make us happy. We need to find our joy and hope in serving others. We are made in the image of God, but unless we pursue His spirit and goals, we will be unsatisfied. So as man becomes more in control of his world, he needs God’s inspiration more than ever. OK more on this later….