Fulbright University Vietnam assigns new chair to replace controversial predecessor

By Vu Minh   May 2, 2018 | 12:40 am PT
Fulbright University Vietnam assigns new chair to replace controversial predecessor
Helen Kim Bottomly, the new chair of Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV)'s Board of Trustees, as shown in a photo posted on the university's website.
A 72-year-old scientist will succeed Senator Bob Kerrey who was involved in a Vietnam War massacre.

Fulbright University Vietnam, the first American-style, non-profit university in the country, has appointed a new chair to succeed her predecessor whose role at the school raised ethical questions.

Helen Kim Bottomly, 72, served as President of Wellesley College in the U.S., the world's top-ranked college for women, from 2007 to 2016, Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) announced in a statement on Wednesday.

An immunobiologist and scientist, Bottomly was a faculty member at Yale University between 1980 and 2007, and also served as Yale’s Deputy Provost.

She is an elected member of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an elected member of the National Academy of Inventors.

“The opportunity to help create a new liberal arts university in Vietnam is a worthwhile and important endeavor. The energy and dynamism of Vietnam’s young people makes Vietnam a particularly special place to create a new institution of higher learning,” Bottomly said, as cited in the statement.

She succeeds Senator Bob Kerrey, who served as the founding chair of the university’s Board of Trustees.

Announcing his decision to step down from the board, Kerrey said: “Fulbright University Vietnam occupies a special place in the unique relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam. It has been a great honor to serve as the university’s first chair."

"Over the past three years, we have made great strides towards achieving our dream of a creating an innovative Vietnamese university,” he said, adding that he nominated Bottomly to succeed him.

Kerrey’s appointment at FUV in 2016 opened up old wartime wounds, fueling debate among the pubic who recalled his role in a traumatic massacre in the peasant village of Thanh Phong in the southern province of Ben Tre during the Vietnam War between 1955 and 1975.

On February 25, 1969, Kerrey led a Swift Boat raid on the village targeting a communist leader whom intelligence suggested would be there. The village was considered part of a free-fire zone by the U.S. military.

However, the brutal operation went horribly wrong and at least 14 villagers, including women and children, were killed.

When asked by Here & Now's Robin Young if he would step down from his position if it became an issue, he said no.

"If it was an American university maybe I would step down, but it's not; it's a Vietnamese university and the secretary of the party of Ho Chi Minh City fully supports the efforts and my measurement is that if I were to step down it would hurt the project."

In an interview with VnExpress in 2016, he said: “An apology changes nothing about what I did. We cannot change the past. We can only change the future and I hope my efforts to make FUV a success will change the future of Vietnam for the good.”

The establishment of FUV was announced by President Barack Obama in May 2016. The university welcomed its first graduate students later that year, it said.

Its graduate program in public policy was established by Harvard University as the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program in 1995.

The university's undergraduate program in engineering and the liberal arts and sciences will welcome its first students later this year.

FUV is building its main campus in HCMC's Saigon High Tech Park in District 9. The first phase of construction on this site, which will accommodate 1500 students, is scheduled for completion in 2021.

Until it moves to its permanent campus, the university will be based in the city’s District 7.

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