Faculty Position Eliminated
Last Friday, the College voted not to reinstate the faculty position specializing in Asian-American history, a cut which will affect both the history and comparative American studies departments.
This decision has been met with concern by faculty, students and College President Nancy Dye. Dye has requested that the council reconsider their decision. A meeting was held today at noon to do precisely that.
As the Review was going to press, upset students held a protest outside of Cox, where the meeting was being held, and a silent sit-in on the building’s stairwell. This was organized by a group called Asian American Studies Now. Fliers were distributed this morning.
This position was held by Professor Darryl Maeda until he chose to leave the college after last semester.
“The position of a professor focusing in Asian-American history is important to the comparative American studies program because it’s one of the main areas we cover,” said CAS Program Director Jan Cooper. [Full disclosure: Cooper is also the faculty advisor to The Oberlin Review.]
“Asian-American history, from the very beginning of the idea of establishing comparative American Studies, has been fundamental to our faculty’s conception of the program,” said Dye. “I think cutting this program has profound ramifications for the College.... A good number of young faculty have been attracted to Oberlin because of its comparative American studies program. It’s good for faculty, good for students — good for Oberlin.”
“We’re very alarmed,” said Cooper. “Our current CAS program was created under the assumption that there would be someone who did Asian-American history and someone for Asian-American sociology. Now we find ourselves in a position of not only losing a vital connection with the history department, but also losing the core courses for a concentration in our major.”
“Until a few decades ago, one had to ‘read’ about the experience and contribution of Asian Americans mostly through the absence of scholarly print on it,” said Professor of Religion David Kamitsuka, who is on leave this semester. “Fortunately, there has been very important newer scholarship in Asian-American history that corrects this past invisibility. The interdisciplinary methods employed by this generation of scholars are vital to the fields of history and American studies.”
“To eliminate the Asian-American history position will have devastating effects for years to come,” said Associate Professor of History Pablo Mitchell. “With the formation of the CAS program, Oberlin is poised to be a leader among liberal arts colleges as a place to study the complexity and diversity of American race relations. This is a major step backwards.”
“President Dye has asked council to reconsider their decision, a move I support,” said Harry Hirsch, dean of arts and sciences, speaking for the College Faculty Council.
Hirsch prefers not to comment further until the outcome of that re-deliberation is known. Members of the council, when asked, also declined to comment, citing the strict rule of confidentiality over council proceedings.
A student group has formed to take action in urging the overturning of the decision. They have composed letters to the council and a letter to the Review.
The student group also held a planning meeting on Nov. 16, the proceedings of which were off the record. Students announced the outcome of the meeting, however. They planned to distribute a fact sheet and communicate with certain members of the CFC with whom members of the group have relationships. They also discussed the organization for the “non-obstructive” demonstration that happened today.
The students voiced a larger frustration as well.
“We’ve been having the same argument for over 35 years,” said one of the organizers Aishe Suarez, college senior and co-chair of the Asian American Alliance. “The letters we’re writing have already been written. We’re repeating the process.”
“I think this is reflective of the hierarchical way the College looks at certain departments in the curriculum,” said Marianne Tassone, College senior.
The students conjectured as to why the decision was made.
“I want to comment on low enrollment in upper level classes in this position,” said College senior Gina George. “One reason for this is the high turnover rate of faculty in this position. It’s very difficult for students build up a relationship with a professor.
“Structural racism that informs our society hinders students from immediately being aware of these classes and aware of issues of identity,” George continued. “We haven’t been taught about our identity previous to coming to college.”
“We didn’t learn about Asian-American history in our high school or middle school classes,” added Suarez. “The only reason I know about [Asian-American history] is because I had a teacher who went to Oberlin and was a part of AAA.”
Another concern is that this decision could produce ramifications on not only Oberlin’s curriculum but on its reputation as well.
“The Association for Asian American Studies boycotted the position after [Professor Antoinette Charfauros] McDaniel [was terminated],” said Tassone. “This is still in the psyche of a lot of potential professors. Oberlin has raised red flags.”
Tassone was referring to an incident which occurred almost four years ago when McDaniel’s position in Asian/Pacific sociology at Oberlin was terminated. In response, the members of AAAS boycotted by agreeing not to apply to be the replacement.
“It is sending a strong message to faculty of color and anyone interested in cutting-edge interdisciplinary work that Oberlin would choose to cut a position that has played such a vital role in those areas,” said Cooper.
“I also think this will send a loud and clear message to many faculty, whether Council intends it or not, that the intellectual projects entailed in CAS are hardly understood or appreciated by many senior faculty of influence,” said Kamitsuka.
Some students at the meeting questioned if this decision had to do with the Strategic Plan’s intention to cut seven faculty positions.
“The Strategic Plan has not in any way dictated this specific decision,” said Dye. “The thrust of our Strategic Plan strongly augers for keeping the Asian-American history post.”
Dye cited the stipulations of the Strategic Plan that focuses on improving diversity in faculty, students and curriculum and improving interdisciplinary programs and multicultural resources.
“In general, I would want everyone on campus to understand that Council and EPPC have begun the difficult task of cutting seven positions with great seriousness and care,” said Hirsch. “These are not easy or pleasant decisions.”
“It is also worth remembering that the Asian-American history position Council is now proposing to cut was approved by two other College Faculty Councils in just the past six years,” added Kamitsuka. “This is a new process for all of us, and we all have to help each other carry out the cuts. We need to pull together as a community of learning. It is a difficult job being a member of Council this year.”
“Building faculty is always the most critical work of the
College,” Dye concluded. “I fear we will move away from the goals of
the Strategic Plan if we do not retain this Asian-American history