Leaked Documents Reveal New Information on Potential China Campus

Wesleying has obtained access to documents concerning the University’s announcement that it is considering establishing a campus in Hengdian, China. These documents were sent to Wesleying by a student source, and the validity of the documents have been confirmed by the University. 

These documents include a presentation made by the University outlining the motivations behind the joint venture with Hengdian Group, the Chinese corporation that would partner with the University, the costs and benefits of opening the campus, and the financial opportunities associated with the venture. The University seems to still be in the preliminary planning process, and as far as we know, the Hengdian joint venture proposal has not resulted in any concrete commitments as of yet.

The second document included here is a draft presentation by Ernst & Young-Parthenon, a strategy consulting company, detailing the University’s performance in the higher education market. Parthenon, which joined EY in 2014, has been advising in the education industry since 1991.

The last document included here is an email from Heather Brooke, Administrative Assistant to the President, to the members of the Board (presumably the Board of Trustees) sent on September 10, 2019. She mentions that Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, a dean at the Yale School of Management, would be presenting during the first session of the retreat. She directs the email recipients to a series of news articles that Mr. Sonnenfeld had sent along for review prior to the retreat. The materials include an article in the New York Times titled “Don’t Dismiss ‘Safe Spaces’”, “The Coddling of the American Mind” from The Atlantic, and “How Megadonors Could Rescue America’s Universities” from Fortune.

The release of these documents exemplifies a unique instance where we can observe the inner workings of the Administration’s mindset as it looks towards the future. The Hengdian presentation tells us about the University’s interests and goals in regards to this particular venture. Perhaps of greater importance, the EY-Parthenon presentation opens the door to an entirely different conversation, and provides some context as to why the University is considering pursuing the Hengdian campus in the first place.

The EY-Parthenon presentation describes the challenges facing higher education across the board. The information included in the presentation is in some respects unprecedented; it tells us a lot more than what American universities might currently be willing to reveal when it comes to the challenges that they are perceiving in a rapidly evolving world.

In publishing these documents, Wesleying’s main priority is to ensure that the entire Wesleyan community has equal access to information concerning the challenges the University is facing as it sets its sights on future growth. The Hengdian campus proposal seems to be just one example of potentially many new ventures the University will be pursuing in the coming years.

Four documents are included at the bottom of this post. The first is the original Hengdian proposal presentation. The second is an updated version that was presented to faculty on October 15th, 2019. The third is a draft copy of the EY-Parthenon presentation. The last document is Ms. Brooke’s email to the board.

Hit the jump for a summary of the documents.


The Hengdian Proposal

The first section of the University’s presentation includes examples of previous precedent for international joint ventures, the most prominent being those by NYU and Duke. It covers the history of Hengdian Group, as well as the roles that will be played by Hengdian Group and the Shanghai Theatre Company in the implementation of the joint venture. The presentation mentions that a delegation from China visited Wesleyan in May 2019, and then a team from Wesleyan visited Hengdian in July 2019.

The next section of the presentation is called “Blue Sky”, which is the proposal for the Hengdian campus itself. The academic program would culminate in a “Wesleyan bachelor’s degree” and English would be the primary language of instruction. Initially, the campus would offer three majors, including film, with the focus being on humanities and social science classes. The goal is to ultimately offer more interdisciplinary majors like those offered here in Middletown.

At least 50% of the faculty will be recruited internationally, “outside of China”, and the Administration wants the campus to eventually consist of “10-15% international students”. They also want the campus to model student life at Wesleyan in terms of co-curriculars.

The presentation explains the organizational structure of the joint venture, both in Middletown and in Hengdian, and makes special note of the fact that there will be “no financial burden on Wesleyan,” as the annual budget to cover administrative costs will be funded by Hengdian Group.

The campus is expected to grow in size from 1000 students to 3000 students within 10 years, with the first four admitted classes being 250 students each. The University is considering admitting the first class in the mid 2020s.

The third section of the presentation describes the “Biggest Opportunities and Challenges” facing the joint venture. Some prominent opportunities include the lack of financial commitment, enhancing “Wesleyan’s reputation on a number of fronts”, and being “early to an expanding higher-education market”. Some challenges include that the venture is a “new concept with an uncertain future”.

Most notably, the University mentions that there are risks to Wesleyan’s reputation that might result from failure, from “operating in China”, and from “partnering with a large corporation”.

The University then outlines the next steps of proceeding with the joint venture, if it chose to do so. Discussion about the campus began in Summer 2019. The goal would be to build the campus and the administrative structure, as well as admit students, from 2020 to 2023, with the Hengdian campus being fully operational by 2033.

The last section of the presentation consists of supplemental information which includes “running lists of questions and issues for due diligence”. Included here are financial, reputational, and operational considerations and the geographic, economic, and political contexts of the venture.

A notable concern is the “sustainability of academic freedom of free speech,” the potential long term risks associated with Hengdian’s destinational prominence in the film industry, and concerns about the “enduring attraction of US higher education, prestige, liberal arts approach”.


Ernst & Young–Parthenon Presentation

The EY-Parthenon presentation goes into great detail on the future growth of the higher education market. While the Hengdian presentation discusses a potential option for growth, the EY-Parthenon presentation contextualizes this venture within other methods of growth.

The first section, called “Higher Education Market Context”, includes future enrollment predictions for higher education overall and the “confluence of global, technological, and economic challenges and related opportunities”. It discusses the role that international enrollment currently plays, saying that it has been “a key enrollment driver but is no longer reliable”.

When discussing the performance of liberal arts colleges, EY-Parthenon says that “Wesleyan has outperformed the market” by “increasing selectivity while improving yield”. Wesleyan and “other top schools” are performing well, but liberal arts schools overall are facing “real headwinds”. The presentation then delves into how Wesleyan’s peers have found innovative ways of responding to market forces; these peers include University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr, Claremont Colleges, and Middlebury. Remarkably, the presentation admits that “universities are not effectively preparing students for the changing world of work”, with concerns about automation mentioned as well.

The next section of the presentation discusses strategic dimensions to consider as the University looks to the future to “increase the impact and enhance the relevance” of Wesleyan. The three main categories of growth are building in-house, partnering with other potential stakeholders, and acquiring existing “expertise and infrastructure”.

The EY-Parthenon presentation goes hand in hand with the Hengdian presentation in that it begins to explain the University’s pursuit of the Hengdian venture while also providing information on the higher education market in general.


Comment from the University

Prior to releasing these documents, Wesleying reached out to the University for comment on the existence and content of these documents. Lauren Rubenstein, the University’s Director of Media Relations and Public Relations, was forthcoming and fairly transparent in her response.

Ms. Rubenstein emphasized the preliminary and confidential nature of both sets of documents. She said that the documents “contain sensitive information, which could easily be misinterpreted outside the context in which they were presented”, and that everything in the Hengdian slide deck, including the timelines, are “pure conjecture since we haven’t even decided yet whether to do the fundamental research”. Ms. Rubenstein also attached a new set of slides with updated information which was presented to faculty on Tuesday, October 15th. This version only includes a third of the original slides, and contains more limited information concerning the venture.


Original Documents

The four sets of documents are embedded below.


The Hengdian Proposal –  09.10.2019



The Hengdian Proposal, abridged – 10.15.2019




The Ernst & Young–Parthenon Presentation – 09.22.2019



Heather Brooke’s Email


For more context on the ongoing conversation, be sure to check out Wesleying’s reporting on the Hong Kong panel here, the Argus’ reporting on the venture here, and President Roth’s blog post here


Update 10.18.2019 1:33 pm est – A previous version of this article was titled “University Leaks Documents Concerning Potential China Campus”. This title was a bit confusing, and has been changed for accuracy.

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