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Letter from President Bienen - April 17, 1995

Office of the President

February 14, 1995

Mr. Robert Yap, President
Asian American Advisory Board
1999 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208

Dear Mr. Yap and Board Members:

Thank you for your letter of February 2 and for the proposal you put before me. I read it last weekend with care. I do not want to comment on the many points raised in the proposal. I do want to repeat some points that were made in my letter to the ASG and to representatives of the Asian American Advisory Board with whom I met recently when we discussed an Asian American Studies program at Northwestern.

I start with the assumption that any new program we initiate at Northwestern ought to be done well and be excellent in content. As the proposal points out, an Asian American Studies Program ought to build on, and add to, strengths that we have in history, political science, sociology, anthropology, and I would add law, economics, journalism, education, the performing arts and other subjects and schools.

This is why I suggested to the students with whom I met that they do a systematic study of what existing courses have analytical content that speaks to the issues with which they and you are concerned. I refer, for example, to courses that deal with migration and demographic change; ethnicity and class; history of American cities and labor markets; patterns of legal discrimination; literature; ties between immigrant groups and the countries of origin with respect to trade and international relations.

These courses are by no means exhaustive and the proposal mentions many such subject areas. Northwestern has strength in some of these specific areas, not all. It probably has relatively little strength with respect to the Asian American content of the disciplinary courses and approaches. Furthermore, Asian Studies has not been strong here as compared to Cornell, Berkeley, or Wisconsin. However, with Professor Cumingsâ arrival and the establishment of a Center for International and Comparative Studies we are making some headway.

While I have not surveyed current course offerings germane to your proposal, I suspect they are minimal. Thus, providing such courses would require new faculty resources. You should understand that each faculty person who is additive to our budgets has a true cost of about three million dollars needed in endowment to cover the annual costs over the life-time employment of that person. This estimate does not include space, administrative, or secretarial costs of a new program.

However, I am not suggesting that costs would prohibit us from undertaking a new program in Asian American Studies. I do, however, suggest that any new significant program needs to be vetted very carefully for student demand and interest. It also needs to be evaluated in terms of foregone opportunities for other valuable things that may be new or that need to be done to strengthen existing schools, programs and departments.

Your proposal contains timing deadlines, or suggestions, and procedural issues; and I want to speak to them frankly. Deadlines and timing issues relate to a variety of factors and review of the proposal must occur through our normal channels.

My responsibility is to think about priorities and costs. The evaluation of the intellectual content, coherence, and staffing of a new program remains in the school where a program would be lodged. In this case, I assume it would be CAS although other schools could be involved, especially Speech.

I am all for student participation in thinking about new programs. I also strongly support faculty involvement, including faculty not necessarily involved immediately in the establishment of such a program. I would have preferred individual faculty comments rather than the signing of a form letter only because individual letters are more informative. I firmly believe that hiring decisions must be made by faculty committees according to the procedures of individual schools. I am unwilling to change those procedures by including non-faculty in the process.

Having said all this, let me assure you as I assured the students with whom I met: I am not against this program. I have an open mind about it. I am against arbitrary deadlines to do this or that. I suspect that a gradual phasing in of courses and programmatic ideas might make sense as a start of a new venture. This is how we generally proceed in developing new programs.

I await discussions at the level of the responsible deans. I intend to keep in close touch with this proposal. I thank you for it. It is a very useful start of necessary discussions as we approach a new subject at Northwestern.


Henry S. Bienen