Diplomats and functionaries of institutions and nations have given and received gifts as part of official visits to other places for thousands of years. Traditionally the gift is seen as a way to commemorate the occasion and honor the visitor or host. Gifts are also meant to remind the recipient of, or share with him or her, a bit of the flavor and culture, of a country or institution. During the period between 1995 and 2012 George Mason University President, Dr. Alan G. Merten, University Provost, Dr. Peter N. Stearns, and other George Mason officials traveled as part of delegations to institutions abroad on university business. During these visits Mason administrators discussed partnership opportunities with officials of other universities and sometimes government functionaries, as well. By the same token, Mason administrators also received visits from delegations from other countries.
In December 2016 the University Libraries received from the Office of the President a collection of gifts given to Mason officials over the years while hosts or guests of officials representing universities from other nations. We have installed an exhibit of some of the materials in our Reading Room. While to the casual observer these small tokens may seem to be inconsequential baubles or trinkets, the meaning behind many of them is far from insignificant.
In April 2008 George Mason University president Alan Merten accepted this small statue of Confucius on behalf of the university during a ceremony in front of the Concert Hall. It was presented to him by the president of the Confucian Academy of China, Dr. Tang Enjia. The statue is a replica of the twelve-foot bronze statue that was given to the university by the Confucian Academy of China. The Academy characterized the two-ton statue as a symbol of the two organizations’ “friendship and shared values”.
A year later the Confucius Institute at Mason opened. The Institute, which is not related to the Confucian Academy, is a partnership between the Confucius Institute in China, the Beijing Language and Culture University, and George Mason University. It offers non-credit educational programs about Chinese language and culture on the Fairfax Campus of George Mason University.
The US-China 1+2+1 Dual Degree Program, begun in 2001, is a multi-member partnership of American and Chinese universities participating under the auspices of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the China Center for International Educational Exchange (CCIEE). Nearly one hundred Chinese universities and twenty-five American universities participate in the program. This international education initiative brings American and Chinese universities together to offer dual degrees to Chinese undergraduate students. Students participating in the 1+2+1 program spend their freshman year in a Chinese university, their sophomore and junior years at an American university, and their senior year at their original university in China. Upon completing all requirements, students receive a baccalaureate degree from each school. Graduates of the program complete a rigorous and demanding course of study at two universities, and gain a truly international education.
In 2004 George Mason University became one of the first American institutions to participate in the US-China 1+2+1 Dual Degree Program. The program has brought a select group of talented international students to campus, adding a global perspective to academic instruction and serving as a catalyst for other exchanges between U.S. and Chinese partner universities. This banner was given to university officials in January 2016 during a visit by Chinese 1+2+1 partners.
George Mason University entered into unsuccessful talks with St. Petersburg State University in the Russian Federation in an attempt to establish a partnership to offer a dual degree program in the late 1990s. This crystal paperweight was one of several gifts given to Mason officials during their visit to St Petersburg.
George Mason investigated the possibility of creating an academic partnership with Haifa University in Israel and Al-Kuds University in Jerusalem during the early 2000s. The potential partnership had the secondary aim of improving Israeli-Palestinian relations. This item was a gift from officials at Al Kuds University.
Mason opened its fourth campus in fall 2006 in Ras-Al-Khaimah (RAK) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While the faculty, staff, and curriculum were overseen by George Mason University, Mason had to partner with outside sources for funding and other administrative activities. Amid serious disagreements with their partners in the enterprise in subsequent years. Mason concluded that the partnership would not be conducive to academic quality and might affect Mason’s accreditation at home. Mason withdrew from the partnership and closed the campus in 2009.
George Mason University opened its new international campus in Songdo, South Korea In March 2014. This item was a gift to Mason officials from one of its neighbors in Songdo, the State University of New York in Korea.
Collections come in all shapes, sizes, and, in this case, types. At first glance, one might think that the items in this collection are of little research or historical value. But behind each object there is a story. It might be that the gift was simply a courtesy. It might have been given to welcome a new partner. It might have served to express gratitude. Whatever the intent may have been, items of this type have a way of freezing a moment in time so that others may reflect on it.
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