Letter from CAS Dean Dumas

Office of the Dean

February 23, 1995

Asian-American Advisory Board
1999 Sheridan Road, Office O
Evanston Campus

Dear Board Members:

Thank you for sending me a copy of your proposal for the establishment of a program in Asian-American studies at Northwestern. You have identified a curricular area of considerable interest to CAS. My office currently is examining what the faculty is doing and can do in this area of the curriculum. I do think CAS can provide many of the kinds of curricular change necessary to create the learning opportunities you seek. I am more cautious than you, however, in drawing the conclusion that only a free- standing academic program with its own faculty and staff can achieve the desired transformation in learning opportunities for our students.

Creation of courses and programs in CAS -- as in the University at large -- takes into account demand, intellectual coherence, and potential for excellence. These three principles are our touchstones. Further development of our offerings in Asian-American studies seems justified on all these grounds. Your proposal makes clear that there is demand and, as detailed below, CAS will be assessing the size and shape of that demand with new course offerings.

The intellectual coherence of new courses and new course materials is of particular importance. Here we must deal with the question posed often by ethnic studies: what balance should be struck between the development of specialized courses and the integration of new materials into existing classes in history, literature, politics, and other subjects. We aim to develop some entirely new courses for those students who desire concentrated study in Asian-American topics, while, in more general courses, providing the majority of our students with greater exposure to Asian-American experiences and culture. We do this because this understanding is essential as our graduates seek their way in our heterogeneous society. I will be asking advice from the CAS faculty about how to make progress along both tracks.

I have no doubt that over time we can develop new courses and new course materials that achieve the levels of intellectual excellence necessary for our curriculum.

That said, let me turn to some specifics about our initial efforts and near-term plans:

  • This year we added Korean language instruction to our Chinese and Japanese offerings, providing additional language support important to understanding the Asian-American experience.
  • We have drawn on the developing expertise of an advanced History graduate student to offer a pilot course this Spring on the history of Asian-Americans since 1850. Should this course prove successful, we intend to repeat it in subsequent years.
  • The CAS Dean's Office is drafting a request for course development proposals to our faculty for two specific purposes: 1) to encourage current members of the faculty to develop new courses dealing with aspects of Asian-American experience and culture; 2) to encourage current faculty members to incorporate such material into existing courses.
  • We plan to look to our sister institutions in the Chicago area for availability of faculty expertise that we can draw upon to develop new courses and, on an occasional basis, to teach them.
  • I will ask the CAS Curricular Policies Committee to determine what teaching expertise is now available on campus in Asian-American studies, what curricular needs are not now being served, and how we might meet them. This committee, the established forum for faculty deliberation about changes in the curriculum, will also examine the broader issues of whether Asian- American studies needs a programmatic identity of its own, and the relative priority of any newly proposed courses via-a-vis other CAS curricular needs.
  • Future hiring into existing faculty lines will be influenced by the priorities established through this evolving dialog between the CAS faculty and administration.

In the final analysis, your proposal connects to Northwestern's evolving interest in Asian and Asian-American studies. The elements of this interest are three. Asian studies provides students with knowledge and understanding of some of the world's great centers of culture and civilization. It also serves as part of the intellectual underpinning of Asian-American studies. Asian-American studies itself helps illuminate the heterogeneity of American culture. Finally, international studies -- in which our Asianists play a role of increased significance -- provides students with the intellectual tools they need to thrive in an interconnected world in which the role of Asian societies is of indisputable importance. As Northwestern develops and refines its expertise in all of these areas, new learning opportunities will be made available to our students.


Lawrence B. Dumas