Students fear end to Asian studies

Sheila Burt

Eight years after intense student lobbying helped create an Asian-American studies program at Northwestern, current faculty members and students said the program must expand — and the possible departure of a core department professor could leave the program in an even more dire condition next year.

“There’s a lack of continuity of leadership and no clear long-term commitment to the program,” said English Prof. Dorothy Wang, who currently teaches about one-third of the core faculty courses in the program.

Prompted by a 1995 hunger strike by several students, the program was launched in 2000 with two core faculty members, including Wang. According to students, NU promised a third full-time professor and a permanent director with an Asian-American studies background.

The university added a third core faculty member this year, but the program has had a different director each year. None of the directors have had a strong Asian-American studies background, contributing to the instability of the program, students and professors said.

Wang was offered an equivalent position in the English department at the University of California at Irvine late last spring. Although Wang declined to comment on the specifics of Irvine’s package, she said it offered an equivalent position in a department with many more faculty teaching Asian-American literature.

NU made a counteroffer, but the offer did not prompt Wang to make her final decision during the summer.

“If the offer had been much more aggressive, I would have decided to stay immediately,” she said. “But now I’m having to weigh factors.”

Although Irvine originally gave Wang a fall deadline to respond, they agreed to extend the offer indefinitely. But if Wang chooses the position, she would begin at Irvine in Fall 2004 — a departure that NU students and faculty members fear could create a large gap in the program.