Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Response to "Needs Attention" Memo from Asian American Studies

December 6, 2011

This memo serves as the Department of Asian American Studies’s response to the memo from the APG and EVC/P that you forwarded to Humanities chairs and directors via email on November 15, 2011. It also serves as an addendum to the memo that I sent to you on November 9, 2011. Imbedded in this response are comments related to the Ph.D. Program in Culture and Theory.

We wish to address and correct the deep factual and narrative inaccuracies in the memo, which include the following:

• We challenge the claim that our Department has “very low” undergraduate enrollment, since by memo’s own measure, our SCH for 2009-10 are in excess of 1209, not far from the “exceptional” number Classics enjoyed during this same period. On the contrary, the ten-year record shows that Asian American Studies has held consistently high enrollments, and that this high rate of enrollment has “not changed much over the years.”

• Asian American Studies, as well as the other targeted interdisciplinary programs, have and continue to serve the Ph.D. program in Culture and Theory at every level. Asian American Studies faculty have taught in the Program’s Core series, and have individually mentored Culture and Theory students, whether serving on qualifying committees, dissertation committees or directed readings. The assertion that faculty participation from the IDPs is “significantly less than anticipated” is patently false; one even wonders the how “significant participation” is measured.

• Enrollments in Culture and Theory have remain relatively low because block funding has remained low. That said, Culture and Theory admissions rate is more selective than many other graduate programs in the School. The claim that neither the IDPs nor Culture and Theory are NRC-ranked—faulty a ranking system as it is—and thus constitute a liability is specious; it is not the fault of the programs that the NRC does not recognize this graduate program, but the all-too- narrow and fallacious scope of the NRC itself: do not criticize the object under scrunity when lens scrutinizing is flawed to begin with.

• The claims that “not one [member of the IDP] has served as director and few have taught core or elective courses” for Culture and Theory are also false. Inderpal Grewal, formerly a core member of Women’s Studies (and now at Yale), was the Program’s first Director; Arlene Keizer, who served as Director from 2009-11 is a core member in African American Studies, and Jim Lee, Chair of Asian American Studies, is its current Director. Glen Mimura, also a former Director, was until very recently an active affiliate of Asian American Studies (formerly Core), and even served on a search committee for the Department’s recent hire.

• We contend that the overemphasis, even obsession, with one metric of “excellence” or “coherence” (i.e. the NRC rankings), prevents our colleagues across campus to see how the members of Asian American Studies demonstrate visible “quality” and “excellence.” The following constitute but do not exhaust other criteria for evaluating quality and excellence: Linda Vo is an elected Board Member of the Association for Asian American Studies and is an Advisory Board Member of the Journal of Asian American Studies and Co-Chairs the American Studies Association-Japanese Association for American Studies Project Advisory Committee. She has also been recognized as one of “25 to Watch” emerging great academics in Diverse magazine. Claire Kim is co-chair of the Committee on the Status of Asian Pacific Americans of the American Political Science Association, serves as Associate Editor of American Quarterly, the journal of the American Studies Association, and sits on the Editorial Board of Kalfou, a comparative ethnic studies journal headed by George Lipsitz of UCSB. Dorothy Fujita-Rony has sat on the boards of the Filipino American National Historical Society and Labor and Working Class History Association. James Lee continues as an editor of the Heath Anthology of American Literature. Christine Balance has won over $17,000 of extramural grant money; Claire Kim received an $8000 grant from the UC Center for New Racial Studies just last year.

• We do not understand why the otherwise inaccurate statement that Asian American Studies and other IDPs have “trouble attracting and retaining chairs/directors” is at all a measure of quality, excellence, or productivity, and we would invite then the APG and EVC/P to apply this same principle to the local cultures of other academic units.

• The memo makes liberal use of the phrases “measures of quality and productivity” and yet is at pains to apply these so-called measures vaguely, unevenly, and inconsistently. To wit: Classics is lauded as enjoying “clarity of purpose and focus” and an “exceptional number of SCH” to “outweigh the relatively low number of students [majors?] compared to the number of faculty.” But by this measure, Asian American Studies falls into this category as well: our SCH matches that of Classics, and our curriculum demonstrates the interdisciplinary breadth that mirrors the national and international field of Asian American Studies. Even a cursory glance at our course offerings and major requirements shows that our program’s curriculum is consistent with Asian American Studies programs around the nation.

• Programmatic coherence is touted a number of times as so-called evidence of a given unit’s quality and/or excellence. But the criteria by which “coherence” is determined is never made clear: what does the memo mean by coherence? Methodological? Disciplinary? Ideological? And if any of these, isn’t such coherence worth challenging and debating lest it turn into calcified, ahistorical, untested “knowledge?” Moreover, we challenge this notion that coherence is an intrinsic academic or scholarly virtue worth upholding. Is not an engagement with a diversity of ideas, approaches, objects of study, indeed an interrogation of the very contours of knowledge a measure of quality that is at least equal to if not more worthy of evaluation than coherence? Is singular approach truly better than multiplicity?

• On diversity: we are curious as to why the IDPs are targeted and bearing the brunt of this question of “[reassessing] the role of these units in our broader effort to leverage diminishing State resources,” given that (1) Asian American Studies exists at UCLA, UC Davis, and UCSB and enjoy autonomous teaching programs at UC Berkeley, UCSD, and UC Riverside; no other UC has focused so obsessively on “reassessing” on the backs of these IDPs; and (2) UCI is, along with UC Riverside, the most racial and ethnically diverse campus in the UCs. We question why it is that the most diverse units in the most diverse School on campus occupy half of those deemed “needing attention” and wonder what implicit or explicit message this sends to UCI’s stated commitment to diversity at all levels of campus life. Indeed, the very description of the School of Humanities in the General Catalogue highlights the IDPs as programs that “cut across disciplinary boundaries.” Does this targeting of Asian American Studies and the other IDPs constitute a reaction against both diversity and a return to disciplinary retrenchment? If so, then the memo is more an ideological document than one of true “policy,” but one that carries the weight of policy.

It has not escaped our attention that this memo targets the very academic units that contribute most to the stated academic goal of “[providing] students with a foundation on which to continue developing their intellectual, aesthetic, and moral capacities” (General Catalogue). A crucial dimension of this foundation is the absolute necessity in the twenty-first century to cultivate cultural competencies in multiple communities in the US and beyond. This memo serves to erode and potentially eliminate wholescale the deep legacies of knowledge and struggle that are the basis and constitutive of Asian American Studies and the other IDPs. In essence, we are being told that for some reason, under the aegis of something called “quality” or “excellence,” the stories and knowledges derived from Asian American Studies are just not excellent enough and worth studying. We find this a deeply disturbing and indeed intellectually, morally, and aeshetically bankrupt way through which to cultivate this foundation for our students, which this memo was ostensibly supposed to represent. With the call to reassess the role of the IDPs and other units deemed needing attention, this memo in essence asserts without substantiation a qualitatively different mission of the university. We wonder if this new mission of the university is one truly worth pursuing, whether in times of growth or contraction.

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