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Letter from President Bienen - April 24, 1995

Office of the President

April 24, 1995

To Our Students Participating in the Hunger Strike:

The search for truth in an academic environment is the cornerstone on which the quest for new knowledge is built; we expect, indeed encourage, the free exchange of ideas. Debate, often brisk and lively, is healthy, but we expect that debate to be conducted with openness, civility, and accuracy; anything less has no place here.

We have been open and honest in our various communications with those who profess to represent you; we expected the same in return. The growing disparity between what are irrefutable facts associated with the review and evaluation of your proposal for an Asian American Studies Program and what we hear and read publicly concerns us---and it should concern you---because distortion of the facts and misrepresentation of commitments made do you and your cause a great disservice.

These are irrefutable facts:

  1. The proposal for an Asian American Studies Program was received in my office on February 2, 1995, not three years ago as has been reported widely. I responded to those who would represent you on February 14, 1995; Dean Dumas did so on February 23, 1995. We have continued to respond to various communications from those who would represent you, both in person and in writing, and on numerous occasions; it disappoints us to hear and read us as doing otherwise.
  2. The University administration has never rejected the idea of changes in the curriculum that would explore the Asian American experience and culture and, in fact, bring Asian American studies to the curriculum. We have said repeatedly that responsibility for the evaluation of the intellectual content, coherence, and staffing for Asian American studies rests with the Curricular Policies Committee, the established forum for deliberation on changes in the curriculum in the College of Arts and Sciences. Those who suggest to you that we can and will be pressured into bypassing that process fail to understand the importance of that process, both in the governance of a university and to its intellectual vitality; that they encourage you to continue to put yourselves at risk to coerce us to abridge that process is despicable.
  3. Dean Dumas, in fact, has acted more immediately to bring the Asian American experience and culture to the curriculum while the Curricular Policies Committee completes its work; his actions, which have been formalized in his April 10 and April 20, 1995, letters to those who would represent you, should not be postured in any other way but constructive and positive.

Most recently, Dean Dumas met with your representatives on April 19, 1995; he made a commitment to make funds available to support four new courses in Asian American studies in the 1995-96 academic year. He thought, based on that discussion, that we had the basis for pursuing important curricular change, and he formalized his commitments in his April 20, 1995, letter to the Asian American Advisory Board. Yet, despite what he, and we, thought was agreement, his letter was summarily dismissed in a communication received last Friday. Quite frankly, this response disappoints us, and particularly so because it abrogated a process that had led to very positive discussions---and resolution---of this impasse.

It is time to put aside the rhetoric; to, as Dean Dumas put in his April 10, 1995, letter to the Asian American Advisory Board, " vigorously to bring the Asian American experience to the CAS curriculum." He, and we, have made commitments, substantive commitments, to you; it is time that you respond with a commitment of your own. He, and we, have done our part; it is time you did yours by working with us, not against us, to bring the Asian American experience and culture to the curriculum in a permanent, meaningful way.


Henry S. Bienen