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Faculty Senate hears student plea for Asian American studies

Two Asian American students were given 10 minutes on Thursday, May 19, to tell the Faculty Senate why they thought Stanford should launch a full-fledged Asian American studies program.

The presentations came one week after two dozen students entered the May 12 senate meeting through a locked door opened by a colleague. When one member of the group persisted in addressing that session without permission, the senate quickly adjourned, the first time in its 26 years that the faculty legislative body has adjourned because of disruption.

On Tuesday, May 17, the Associated Students' senate had passed a resolution urging the Faculty Senate to listen to a presentation by Concerned Students for Asian American Studies. On Wednesday, May 18, the Faculty Senate steering committee decided that the May 19 meeting was the only one remaining in the quarter with enough open time to accommodate such a presentation, and put it on that session's agenda.

At the May 19 meeting, Karen Ho, a coterminal student in education, spoke on the intellectual rationale for the program, and Jason Pu, a senior in psychology and religious studies, told of efforts dating back to the early 1970s to initiate a program.

Six other members of Concerned Students for Asian American Studies sat quietly in the back of the room as guests of the senate.

Senate Chair Patricia Jones told the senate that the presentation should be viewed as a special privilege, not routine. The Faculty Senate is not the appropriate forum for students to express their views, she said. They could better make their case, she said, in campus publications, at the student senate and at town meetings.

Jones said no discussion would follow the presentation, but under "old business" Robert Polhemus, English, strongly criticized the students for interrupting the May 12 meeting, which he said impinged on his academic freedom.

Ho told the senate that an Asian American studies program would not promote "academic ghettoization." Instead, the program would connect - "rub minds, if you will" - with feminist scholarship, postcolonial and minority scholarship, cultural studies and scholarship on the history and politics of Asian countries in light of Western imperialism.

Asian American studies - "is not simply a study of one single racial/ethnic community, one cultural niche," she said. "We do not want to create yet another cultural nationalism." Among other things, such a program would grapple with the histories of Asian American women and the different ethnicities within Asian America, she said.

Asian Americans are the fastest growing minority in the United States, she said, and now total one quarter of Stanford's undergraduate student body.

"Asian American studies is crucial to an understanding of our multi-ethnic society," she said.

Apparently responding to President Gerhard Casper's strong statement in his state-of-the-university address that universities must make decisions for academic and not political reasons, Ho said that academia is inseparable from politics.

"Reforming Western Culture to CIV, establishing the Feminist Studies program and the new distribution requirements were all political as well as academic, intellectual debates," she said.

The question of whose history and experiences are valued "is a political question of power relations," she said.

"Just because women's histories and experiences were not considered worthy of scholarship until the 1960s did not mean that women did not contribute to history."

Ho said that Asian American studies, Chicano studies, African American studies, Native American studies and feminist studies "should not be seen as a stealing away of white, Western, male privilege, but, to be sure, as a sharing of an already shared history."

Seeking formal commitment

Pu said the students want a formal commitment to implementation of an Asian American studies program, including hiring of tenure-track faculty in 1994-95 and creation of a committee to draft by next fall a full proposal, with a list of possible courses and sources of funding.

Other schools with full-fledged programs in Asian American studies include the University of California-Berkeley, the University of California-Davis, the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell, he said.

The first proposal for such a program at Stanford was submitted in 1971, "but Asian American studies remained relegated mainly to SWOPSI [Stanford Workshops on Political and Social Issues] courses," he said.

"Efforts to formalize a program continued through the 1970s and 1980s," with special emphasis in 1977 and 1988.

In 1989, the University Committee on Minority Issues (UCMI) published a report "asserting the need for a more fully developed Asian American studies program," he said.

Pu also said that students had discussed the issue with President Gerhard Casper, Provost Condoleezza Rice, Humanities and Sciences Dean John Shoven and Associate Humanities and Sciences Dean Al Camarillo. In addition, the students staged a press conference in February and organized a class this quarter on Contemporary Issues in the Asian American Community.

"Despite all these efforts, no commitment" has been made by the university, he said.

There is "no intellectual justification" for the exclusion of Asian American studies, Pu said.

"A complete and accurate picture of American history, politics, religion - in short, American culture - can only be achieved through the study of all Americans," he said.

The students distributed packets including course listings in Asian American studies from the Berkeley course catalog, a chronology of efforts to achieve a program at Stanford, excerpts from the 1989 UCMI report, excerpts from a 1992 undergraduate survey showing support for the proposal, and a recently published letter from four faculty and one staff member supporting Asian American studies.

Breach of academic freedom

Following the presentation, Polhemus said that what happened at the May 12 meeting was a "serious breach of academic freedom."

He said he had planned to ask Casper how the university could discuss pursuing ethnic studies. "I'm not sure that we have done this in public the way that we should," Polhemus said. "We need for such a thing to happen."

Polhemus said that the interruptions in the senate kept him from speaking.

"No matter how bumbling the senate is and how bad the procedures are and how flawed we are, I think that the precedent of stopping a meeting of the senate is an extremely serious and bad one."

Addressing the students, he asked, "Could we try to get away from the totalitarian tactics of shutting down the rights of others to speak and debate?" He also asked, "Do some of you have second thoughts about preventing the discussion in the Faculty Senate by senators like me about the question of how to facilitate and make ethnic studies work?"

The students did not have the floor to respond, and no senators offered any public support or rebuttal.

Senate Chair Jones said she hoped that ongoing discussions would be possible in the context of the committee Shoven is forming to consider the issue.

With that, the meeting ended.

On their way out, several senators congratulated Polhemus on his remarks, and future Senate Chair Bob Simoni told the students that their presentations were well done.



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