Q: What are the top universities like?
A: The top universities in the U.S. are the schools with the most rigorous programs, the best students, and the best faculty. When I speak about faculty, I am referring to mainly research faculty – research members who are constantly writing, and are creating new ideas. They are the best researchers of their fields. While research is important for these universities, teaching is also important. These schools have great funding, large endowment, long history, they have great traditions, and great resources. The Ivy League schools are among the top universities, and in addition are some technology institutions, such as MIT, CalTech, and humanity schools, such as Stanford, Dartmouth - and I would like to add my institution, Vanderbilt University.
Q: You have studied and taught in some public universities and have later transferred to private universities. How do you compare the public and private universities?
A: One of the main factors is that private universities have their own endowments, their own moneys, their own support systems. Public universities depend on the state; when the state and the country are doing well, their resources are better. For example, a number of decades ago, back in the 1970s or so, Texas was doing well in oil, so University of Texas had lots of funds and money. Unfortunately, the economy is not as strong as it used to be, and so their universities are now suffering quite a bit, and are shifting from public universities to depending on private funds, and they are beginning to fundraise, and are beginning to create what we call a “public-private” type of university – it is a public university, but it is seeking also private funding.
Private universities have their own funds, and they invest their funds, and they manage their own money. They don’t depend on the government or any public institution for funds. They have their own funds so they can manage their own recourses, and can invest the resources. It is a great advantage, because even if the economy goes up and down, they can still maintain their standards.
During the unstable time, there are even professors who left their public universities and sought opportunities in private universities, which can support their research. Also, private universities can still offer funds for scholarship. Public universities do so, but keep in mind that their support system is not as strong as it used to be, whereas private universities continue to be strong. It is said the crisis also affects private universities, but not to the same degree as it is for public universities.
William Luis：私立大学的一个主要特点就是他们都有自己的资金，财政及支持体系。而公立大学则是依靠州政府的支持。当这个州和国家都发展得很好的时候，学校的资源就比较充足。比如，在几十年前，如 70年代左右，德克萨斯州的石油业发展得很好，德克萨斯大学就有充足的资金。但不幸的是，随着当地经济的衰退，德克萨斯州的大学也受到严重影响。因此这些公立大学逐渐转变为依靠独立的资金，他们开始集资，逐渐转变为我们所说的“公私立”大学。这些大学属于公立大学，但也筹集私人资金。
Q: How would you say a public university is different from a private one, in terms of being a student there?
A: A public university has the mission to educate students from that particular state. Each state has a university system – New York has the State University of New York system, Wisconsin has the University of Wisconsin system. There are university systems, and then there are colleges that are associated with the state as well. A public university makes educating students from that state its priority. So they will allow in-state tuition for students of that state. Private institutions accept students from any state, or any part of the world, as long as they meet the schools’ requirements. The mission is to educate any student that applies. So you do have different types of students: mainly, the students who applied to state universities are students who have modest means, they are very smart, bright, hardworking, but their parents may not make a lot of money, so state school becomes an option for them, because the tuition is lower, or they may get a scholarship. Generally speaking, private universities have more students who don’t need to worry about money, because they can pay for the tuition. Having said that, you do have scholarships at private institutions for students who are qualified for scholarship, you do have sometimes who are at modest means going to private institutions.
In terms of the classroom, the public institutions are usually larger institutions, for example, University of Wisconsin has a student body of 30,000, and some other institutions which have a huge student number. Private institutions tend to have smaller numbers, and the student-to-faculty ratio is smaller. For example, in Vanderbilt, we have 11,000-plus students, and we have a student-faculty ratio of 8:1. If you go to a public school, the ratio can be as high as 20:1. So the classroom is going to be larger. There are going to be more students, more activities, more programs, but the contact between students and faculty will be more difficult. For example, at Vanderbilt University, we have all the programs, medical, business, engineering schools, in smaller settings. Of course, the cost is going to be higher if you have to pay full tuition.
There are some colleges, such as Amherst College, Williams College, which are even smaller, but they only offer liberal arts curriculum. So these students will do very well, for example, you will have a student who combines liberal arts with theology, but there are no theology school there, or for example, liberal arts with business, but no business school there. In university settings, there are more offerings. In liberal arts colleges, you get the attention from faculties, but your choices are limited. At liberal arts colleges, you can get that attention you want, but for students that are more independent and want to do things on their own, they may want to study in larger settings, so that they can do their things and not be bothered.
In terms of faculty, it is easier for me, for example, to work with a class with fifteen students, but if I were in a public school, I would probably work with thirty students. And with fifteen students, I can speak to them, meet them at the class, give them extra help. When I am with thirty students, it would be more difficult. If you multiply it by the number of course I am teaching, you can imagine how demanding that becomes just at the teaching level. But my responsibilities are main the teaching, research and publication. It becomes difficult if I had sixty students. But with twenty five students, it is easier for me to attend my students and also get my work done.
And of course, as faculty members, we also have administrative responsibilities – we have to be in committee, we have to not only service the university, but also service the profession, so on so forth. So it is a very demanding schedule.
William Luis: 公立大学的使命就是为本州的学生提供教育。每个州都有自己独特的教学体系。比如，纽约州有纽约州立大学教育体系，威斯康辛州有威斯康辛大学教育体系。正如大学一样，很多州的学院也有自己的教育体系。公立大学优先为本州的学生提供教育，所以他们对本州学生有学费的优惠政策。而私立大学招收的学生来自全美，甚至全球所有满足入学要求的学生，其使命是为所有申请者提供教育。学生的类型是不同的，大多数申请州立大学的学生都是家境一般的。他们聪明，努力，但是他们的父母可能收入并不高，因此州立大学成为了他们不错的选择，因为州立大学的学费很低，而他们也许还可以拿到奖学金。总的来说，私立大学的学生大多数是不需要为学费操心的，他们有能力支付高额的学费。当然私立学校也会为有资格的学生提供奖学金，所以还是会有家境一般的学生选择到私立大学就读。