Save the Asian Studies Program at UB
Save the Asian Studies Program at UB
Why this petition matters
Dr. Walter Hakala, Associate Professor in the Department of English at UB, resigned from his position as Director of the Asian Studies Program (ASP) in December 2019. In his letter, he cited a lack of staff and the administration’s failure “to recognize the importance of the program” as main factors for stepping down. The only other tenure-track faculty member in the Asian Studies Program is Dr. Mark Nathan, who is jointly appointed as Associate Professor by the Department of History. Dean Robin Schulze responded to the resignation by considering Amanda Kennell, a clinical faculty member, for the position of Director, and then eventually appointing Dr. Shelley Kimelberg to the post. Dr. Kimelberg, it must be noted, is already the Director for the Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Degree Program and focuses on Urban Sociology, development, and poverty for her research. Many fear that Dr. Hakala’s resignation is a sign of much deeper structural issues in the administration’s dealings with ASP, issues which do not bode well for the future of the program.
ASP has, by all measures, been a successful part of the fabric of academics at UB. The program filled 312 of its 316 class seats last semester, and has been described in an external review by University of Washington and UNC Chapel Hill as “a vibrant program” with students who are “enthusiastic, indeed fired up, about their course of studies” under the leadership of Dr. Hakala. The same external review mentions that in spite of having fewer resources than a full-fledged department, ASP is financially healthier than any other program in the Arts and Sciences. It also raised over twenty thousand dollars in various study-abroad scholarships for its students in 2019. All of this was achieved without the existence of a corresponding Center for Area Studies, akin to the Center for European Studies for the European Studies Program. The review surmises that “the number of faculty is too low for a program with the history and potential of ASP,” especially in comparison with similarly ranked institutions who usually employ upward of fifteen to twenty faculty for Asian Studies.
Considering these merits, Dr. Hakala’s resignation must be seen as an act of protest against the Dean’s office, and as a call-to-action for the university to consider seriously its allegiance to the program in what has been termed the “Asian Century.” Close to 15% of UB’s student population is Asian. The numbers only increase when we look specifically at incoming batches. When considered alongside the academic, financial, and outreach-based success of the small yet staggeringly successful Asian Studies Program, we are left with the perplexing question of why the Dean’s office has constantly refused to support the growth of ASP.
Therefore, we demand:
- That the process of transforming the Asian Studies Program into a full-fledged Department of Asian Studies be initiated. As a program, with minimal control over its own finances, hiring, and programming, ASP is always teetering at the edge of dissolution, something which a departmental status will effectively remedy.
- That Dean Robin Schulze address directly the University’s view of the Asian Studies Program, and the reasons behind the hindrances placed upon its growth, including but not limited to the refusal to hire more tenure-track faculty. We must consider that there is no evidence of UB being in a state of budgetary crisis at the moment, and that ASP is its most financially-sound program in the Arts and Sciences.
- That more tenure-track and diverse faculty be hired to work and teach with the Asian Studies Program and oversee the growth of its course offerings and research output. At the moment, a large part of the ASP course load is handled by adjunct/clinical faculty who are overworked and underpaid, and who cannot be expected to be involved in the administrative growth of the program or in its research agendas.
- That the Director of the Asian Studies Program be a tenured faculty member invested, involved, and specialized in the study of Asia in their academic work. A majority of the ASP’s past success has been ascribed to Dr. Hakala’s able leadership, his own involvement with the Asian community at UB, and his academic investment in Asia.
The Undersigned Members of the UB Community