Mathematics Master Shing-Tung Yau Holds a Lecture at CUHK-Shenzhen to Share His "Thirty Years at Harvard"
"In this era of change, we should always adhere to the functions and ideals of education, and be committed to illuminating the beauty of human nature. This principle should be regarded as the soul of higher education." On the morning of August 1, Professor Shing-Tung Yau held a lecture at CUHK-Shenzhen. When he wrapped up the lecture with the words of Drew Faust, the first female president of Harvard University, the audience all stood up to express their gratitude.
Professor Shing-Tung Yau is an internationally renowned mathematician who has received the Fields Medal and is now tenured professor at Harvard University, and Distinguished Professor at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen. He has been teaching at Harvard University since 1987. The 31 years at Harvard has given him new thinking about higher education. Professor Yau hopes to use this lecture to present some insights and suggestions on the development of domestic higher education and to provide some useful advice to CUHK-Shenzhen, a young university established for just four years.
Free choice of electives is the key to developing responsible students
Harvard University became a research university in 1869 when Charles William Eliot was appointed as the President of Harvard. He has served in the position for 40 years, longer than any other presidents, and is one of the most influential presidents at Harvard University. Charles William Eliot was the first to allow students to voluntarily choose elective courses. It was him who started the small-class teaching model and stopped compulsory religious education at Harvard.
Professor Yau believes that the basis for free choice of electives is the increase in the number of courses and the improvement of academic quality. Only after the system of free elective courses is fully established, can a university cultivate students' sense of responsibility, professional knowledge and ability to practice in the society. Teachers should serve as the co-founders of the academic community.
Under the leadership of Charles William Eliot, Harvard University established a clear educational philosophy - the pursuit of truth, in which independent thinking is the first principle. The university encourages professors and students to co-participate in the discovery, interpretation, and creation of new knowledge and new thinking. The traditional mode of imparting knowledge gradually transits to the self-education of students under the guidance of teachers.
General Education: extensive and specialized
After the retirement of President Eliot, Abbott Lawrence Lowell took over as president in 1909. During his twenty-four year in office, he developed an undergraduate system which combines concentration and distribution and provides students with excellent basic education. The tutor system also enables undergraduates to enjoy a better academic environment.
Abbott Lawrence Lowell's insights into education have impressed Professor Yau a lot: “Students, generations after generation, are just like waves breaking through the waves, sometimes standing still, and sometimes with storms and roars. Whether we think that human history is monotonous or violent, two things are always new, that is, youth and the pursuit of knowledge, which is what a university should care about. The age of Harvard University can be calculated in centuries, but as long as she pursues these two things eagerly, she will never age. As the times change, the methods used to achieve different goals may change, but the purpose itself is always the same.”
The core of general education proposed by President Abbott Lawrence Lowell still profoundly affecting countless colleges and universities: extensive and specialized. He stipulates that electives need cover four areas: 1. Language, literature, art and music; 2. Natural science; 3. History, politics and social sciences; and 4. Philosophy and mathematics. This has truly achieved the integration of ancient and modern knowledge as well as arts and sciences.
Shunfeng Lotus Foundation presents souvenirs to Professor Yau
Pursuit of knowledge should cross the boundaries of disciplines and countries
Harvard University encourages students to participate in overseas study and exchange during their studies. At the same time, Harvard also welcomes international students to study at Harvard so that students from all over the world can exchange and understand each other's culture.
Professor Yau believes that students should learn and grow in different cultural atmospheres to better meet the needs for high-quality talents in the future globalization. In this vast world, the courage to experience unique and new cultural blends and colorful academic life can help students to broaden their horizons.