Sitting down for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Seoul on the last day of my trip through East Asia, I noticed a long table with a dozen reporters huddled around it. Presiding was an old friend of mine, currently serving as Dean of the Engineering School at Seoul National University, the top university in Korea. From the way the reporters were intently jotting down his remarks, you would think the dean was a major public figure, not just another academic running a school. Between morsels of pasta I eavesdropped on the conversation between the dean and journalists, picking up terms like “competitiveness,” “US News & World Report,” “measurable progress,” and of course, “benchmarks”—the vocabulary of excellence and competition, the lingua franca of higher education these days.
It was not until the 1950s that the first African-American students graduated from the College; the first class of women graduated in 1974, thirty-five years ago. Diversity seemed a little more elusive for us than for other distinguished universities—until today. When you step into Newcomb Hall, along with the clanking of the utensils, you hear Spanish, Filipino, Korean, and Chinese.