Students lobby for Asian studies
By Aileen Lee
MIT applied last December for a $300,000 grant to begin Chinese language courses, marking the first formal effort to obtain money specifically for Asian studies.
MIT has "passed the first cut" in the screening process and will be notified sometime in mid-April if it will receive the grant, according to Professor Peter C. Perdue, the author of MIT's application and a specialist in Asian history.
The grant is being offered by the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation in Taiwan, a private organization that encourages American universities to develop new courses and professorships in Chinese studies. If MIT receives the grant, it will signify that "MIT is making a commitment to support a long-term program in Chinese language and more Asian studies courses," Perdue explained.
He added that "the money would provide us with three years of seed money to establish a faculty position in Chinese language, but under the conditions of the grant MIT is then committed to [continue and build] upon this foundation."
MIT offers select courses in Asian studies, but does not have a faculty position for an Asian studies professor. In addition, the Institute offers no East Asian languages other than Japanese. Since MIT and Wellesley College stopped teaching a jointly-sponsored Chinese class 10 years ago, hundreds of students have traveled to Harvard University and Wellesley to study Chinese and Korean each term. Wellesley has also expressed an interest in restarting the joint Chinese language class.
Last fall, over 20 students studied elementary Chinese at Harvard, and many others took courses in Korean. "It just isn't possible for a lot of people to go five days a week to Harvard to study. It is too rigorous and impractical for many," Perdue said. "There would be a lot more students taking Chinese if we offered it on campus," he added.
The Asian studies grant would overcome many obstacles which have stood in the way of Chinese language courses. For over a decade, various contingents of faculty and students have proposed Chinese and Korean language courses and increased course offerings in the area of Asian studies. Despite these efforts, the administration has done little to evaluate these proposals.
"Asian studies is certainly on the humanities department's agenda, but the bottom line is the time and effort it would take to start a new program," Perdue said.
Dean of Humanities and Social Science Ann F. Friedlaender '64 was unavailable for comment.
Asian student groups
press for changes
The Chinese Students' Club, Asian-American Caucus, Korean Students' Association, and many other organizations are interested in additional Asian language and studies courses. These groups are sponsoring an "Asian-American Awareness Week" from March 2-10, along with the Hong Kong Students' Club, Indians in America Student Union, and Japanese-Americans at MIT to increase awareness of the common Asian-American experience. "This is the first time that all of the Asian clubs on campus are working together," explained Vivian Wu of the AAC.
Eric G. Donato G, also of the AAC, said, "We're trying to build the sense that Asian-Americans do have a common experience; from there we can move onto the issues at MIT and set an agenda of what we feel the MIT curriculum lacks. Already, because of this gap between student needs and what MIT offers now, we are offering seminars ourselves. The response shows that there is a definite group which wants to see more of this."
"We all hope to show people what the Asian community at MIT looks like and how broad it is. The awareness week is not meant to generate an exclusionary feeling, but rather a community feeling which both Asians and non-Asians can participate in and learn from," Wu said.
Other activities on campus to promote interest in Asian studies have included petitions circulated by the CSC to learn students' particular interests in Asian studies courses, an IAP program sponsored by the Center for International Studies to show movies made by modern Chinese filmmakers, and workshops and seminars focusing on modern China sponsored by the Asian Council.
One of the strongest supporters of Asian studies has been Sloan School Dean Lester C. Thurow. Thurow strongly propones internationalizing and diversifying the MIT curriculum.
"Internationalization is pretty high on the agenda of the Sloan School," explained Political Science Professor Richard J. Samuels, who founded and still currently heads the MIT Japan Program. "Because economically and technically things are expanding in Asia so fast, expanding the curriculum to include more courses on management in Asia, Japanese culture, Chinese language and so forth can only benefit our students," he added.
Japan program is
Supporters of Asian studies programs point to the success of the ever-expanding MIT Japan Program, which is only nine years old.
"Just five years ago, MIT had no Japanese language courses," Samuels explained. "Now we have the largest program of applied Japanese studies in the country. Our language program is nearly the size of Harvard's and each year we are sending more and more students to study in Japan. I can only support programs like ours which could open up the rest of the world to MIT."
Samuels strongly defended the establishment of an Asian studies program at MIT. "Students need so badly to have equivalent abilities to cooperate and compete with Asian nations. MIT's programs need more magnitude, and we should have more internationally astute students graduating from here to better adapt to the global economy," he said.