Students, faculty lobby for Chinese
By Joanna Stone
In the past you've had to travel down the road to that "other" school if you really wanted to take it. But, now many of the MIT faculty and administration have decided that it's high time that we offer it here. The optimistic prediction is that starting next fall, Chinese language courses may be offered at MIT.
The recent initiative began last year, when Peter Perdue, associate professor of East Asian history, applied for a grant from the just-formed Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation. The grant is given to schools which show a strong interest in and commitment to the study of China and Chinese language. It is only a starter grant, offering a certain amount of money to support the program in its initial years.
Based on their own assessment of the MIT proposal, the Chiang Ching-Kuo foundation last year offered the Institute $30,000 a year for three years. "This was not enough to start the program, so we withdrew our application for the grant," said Perdue. In order to realistically initiate the proposal, Perdue said the Institute would need $100,000 a year for the first three years.
Since last year's proposal was withdrawn, the Chinese language program has gathered even more support. MIT will apply for the grant again this year, but this time Perdue will not actually be writing it. Instead, Isabelle de Courtivron, the new head of the foreign language department, is in the process of writing it.
The written proposal is due Nov. 1, and the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation will notify MIT by April 15.
"It was not something I asked for. I was given the proposal to write," said de Courtivron, who did not take part in last year's initiative and at the time was not even aware that MIT was applying for such a grant.
It is understandable that de Courtivron was not aware of last year's initiatives, explained Philip S. Khoury, Dean of the School of Humanities. Last year, Dean Ann F. Friedlaender, then acting head of the foreign language department, was the one in contact with Perdue in connection with the proposal.
When Khoury replaced Friedlaender as acting dean, he put the Chinese language program in the hands of de Courtivron.
If it goes through, the program will be in de Courtivron's department, and Khoury felt she would be the best person to write the proposal. "In consultation with other scholars in the field, of course," added Khoury.
According to de Courtivron, some of the people she will be working with include Lisa B. Rofel, assistant professor of anthropology, Lucian W. Pye, a political science professor, and Tunney F. Lee, head of the urban studies and planning department.
De Courtivron will also work closely with Perdue. However, there is a clear difference between how the two approach the program. Perdue felt the program should be modeled after the most recent addition to the foreign language program, Japanese, which is now officially embarking on its sixth successful year at the Institute.
De Courtivron, however, believed that too close a resemblance to the Japanese program would be a mistake. "There are a number of students who have a large background in Chinese who will need higher level courses," she said.
De Courtivron said that she doesn't want to just teach the beginning level courses geared mainly to business and engineering majors, the pool from which she feels the Japanese program draws most of its students.
"We want to place the program in a larger intellectual context" more comparable to other language programs, said de Courtivron.
Although de Courtivron is strongly in favor of and dedicated to forming a Chinese language program, she has proceeded with caution, noting that the entire proposal is a "touchy" topic.
"Anytime you introduce a new language into a department it's a sensitive topic, " said Khoury. There are always those that will feel there is a more important language that should be introduced, he said.
"MIT will never be an institute to offer all languages to all people," said Khoury. "Fortunately, we're blessed with a great institution nearby, that does offer all languages."
Khoury felt that currently no foreign language initiative could be in stronger demand at MIT. Yet he stressed that there are no guarantees that funding will come through for the Chinese language program.
Thurow adds Sloan
Perhaps the greatest new force pushing for a Chinese language program is Lester C. Thurow, dean of the Sloan School. In a meeting this summer, Thurow met with a number of people behind the MIT program, including Perdue, and threw his full support behind the Chinese language program.
Thurow hopes to include the Chinese language as part of an Asian studies master's program. He believes such a program is imperative in light of China's long-term increasing role in economic and world affairs.
"It's time Chinese became a world language rather than just the world's largest language," said Thurow.
Thurow hopes to initiate the program as soon as possible. He attributes his urgency to the fact that a Chinese language program at MIT is long overdue. "This should've been done 15 years ago."
In fact, Chinese was offered here from 1976 to 1980. It was taught by a Wellesley professor as part of a Wellesley exchange program. The course was given on the MIT campus and was open only to MIT students. However, administratively, the program was run entirely by Wellesley College.
Yih-Jian Tai, who taught Chinese here during those four years, said the program was an overwhelming success as far as student interest was concerned. "In fact, that was the problem,"said Tai. "By the fourth year, the total enrollment at MIT exceeded the number of Wellesley students in their own department. It didn't look right to remain simply a branch of the Wellesley program."
The eventual failure to continue offering the course was due to political reasons, according to Tai. Wellesley did not want to stop teaching the course and the MIT provost at the time was uncertain whether he wanted to fund a full-fledged program.
"They figured they'd close [the Wellesley program], let the whole thing cool down for a few years, and then reestablish the program at MIT," said Tai.
However, a decade later there is still no program at MIT. "Almost every year the Chinese Students Club has petitioned to reestablish a program, but so far they have not been successful," said Tai.
CSC petitions for Chinese
In an attempt to further boost their yearly attempts to secure a Chinese language program at MIT, members of CSC, along with other students, formed a group called Chinese Language On Campus (CLOC). The group has been the major instigator of much of the recent initiatives, according to CLOC Chair Shu Tung '92. "They would not have applied for the grant last year if CLOC wasn't formed," said Tung.
Last year CLOC put together petitions and took surveys of the student body, the results of which showed that there was "an overwhelming demand for Chinese on the MIT campus," said Tung.
CLOC also surveyed students who had made the trip to other schools to take Chinese. "Most people found it was too much time and commitment. In the end they felt it was worthless," said Tung. Last year 37 students took Chinese at Harvard, according to the Registrar's Office.
CLOC is optimistic that a Chinese language program will be initiated soon, yet will continue to petition until it is. In the meantime, CLOC is offering a seminar this term on Chinese language. The seminar is being taught by Allan Genatossio of the Industrial Liason Program. Enrollment will be limited to 15-20 students.