Proposed Budget to Gut East-Asian Languages at Cal 

East Asia is rising, and 45 percent of Cal's students are ethnically Asian, but the study of East Asian languages is imperiled.

When UC Berkeley's $46.4 million C.V. Starr East Asian Library opened this March, it was lauded for one of the world's most impressive scholarly collections of East Asian materials. In fact, it's the first library dedicated to East Asia at any US university. There's only one problem: Fewer people on campus are going to be able to read its works.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget for higher education is hitting the entire UC Berkeley campus, but some departments are facing tougher blows than others. One of the hardest hit will be the East Asian Languages and Cultures department. Japanese and Chinese programs are likely to be radically downsized, and the Korean program faces virtual extinction, as only two of its current six Korean-language lecturers will be returning next fall. Meanwhile, 40 percent of Japanese classes are threatened, along with 54 percent of Chinese classes.

"The new library literally opened its doors to the public in March, but metaphorically closed its doors two months later," said Christine Hong, a post-doctoral fellow in the English department and core member of the student-based committee, Save Korean Studies at Berkeley, which is rallying against the budget.

For students, such cuts would mean that the already-stiff competition for enrollment in East-Asian language courses will get a whole lot stiffer. Only students within the College of Letters and Sciences — which encompasses roughly half of the campus' faculty, three-quarters of its undergrads, and half its Ph.D candidates — will be able to enroll in East Asian language classes.

"These cuts don't just cut to the bone, they cut to the heart of who UC Berkeley is today," Hong said.

And who is UC Berkeley today? At least 45 percent of the student body self-identifies as ethnic Asian. A large proportion of those students are "heritage speakers," meaning that they were raised in a home where a non-English language is spoken. UC Berkeley takes a great deal of pride in its diversity, as is evidenced by its latest advertising campaign, which features the voices of alumni touting this very characteristic: "I love walking down Sproul and hearing different languages left and right," reads one quote from the prominent display of posters in front of the international office on campus.

But these ads beg the question: In a world in which East Asia is becoming an increasingly important global power, in a state that is home to five million Asian Americans, and on a campus whose student body is 45 percent ethnic Asian, why is UC Berkeley's East Asian Languages and Cultures department suffering a disproportionate amount of the fallout from California's budget cuts?

The university isn't necessarily targeting the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department. All departments with a high number of temporary instructors are reeling from the cuts. Yet this will be especially devastating to East Asian Languages and Cultures since 90 percent of its lecturers are so-called Temporary Academic Staff — as opposed to permanent faculty or staff positions. Department chairman Alan Tansman said he is planning for a 28 percent cut to the department's temporary staff budget.

Although the Governor's most recent budget would restore $98.5 million of his proposed $332 million in cuts, it's unclear yet whether the Temporary Academic Staff budget will see any of that money. The cuts will be finalized in July, but Tansman said he had to "put the gears in motion" based on the preliminary budget he received in April.

Dean Janet Broughton of the College of Letters and Sciences declined to be interviewed, but acknowledged the difficulties involved in the timing of the budget process in a recently posted public message. "While I hope very much that the budget outlook will soon improve," she said, "I cannot sugarcoat a serious crisis."

But some students aren't convinced that the distribution of the cuts was completely devoid of bias. Hong, who is Korean-American, said the uneven distribution is bringing painful histories of prejudice among Japanese, Chinese, and Korean students bubbling to the surface. "When we hear that these cuts are coming down and Korean is now off the table, in a way, it stokes these historical flames," she said. "So the Koreans who are involved in this are fiercely involved in this."

Tansman said he downsized the East Asian Languages and Cultures department in accordance with criteria from his "higher-ups." These criteria included protecting continuing lecturers, programs at risk of extinction, and Graduate Student Appointments (which are contractual). In addition, he said, the general rule is that junior faculty members get cut first. The Korean program has more new hires and more lecturers, and therefore is taking the hardest blows.

Many non-Asian students, both grads and undergrads, are involved in efforts to save East Asian languages. On May 8, more than 100 students gathered at lower Sproul Plaza and marched to the new library to protest the cuts. In the short term, Hong and other activists hope to raise money from outside sources to help maintain the department. But she believes such fund-raising is merely a Band-Aid for an issue that will undoubtedly reoccur. "If you always rely on external funding, we won't get the same internal commitment, or what I call institutional will, to build up the program," Hong said.

In the long term, Hong would like to see language instructors tenured so they are not always the first to go when the going gets tough. She admits that this goal may be lofty, but notes that students are paying more attention to the issue now that their language classes are being threatened by the tightening state budget.

Education expert Patrick Murphy of the Public Policy Institute of California said that budget cuts give the university a chance to "trim the fat," so to speak. Cutting all departments evenly across the board might be easier, less political, and make more people happy, he said, but it's also not taking advantage of an opportunity to look closely at the university's priorities. Yet he notes that the "fat" is often limited to lecturers and graduate students who don't have secure academic positions.

"The big thing is to be competitive in terms of faculty salary so that we can get the top people," said Murphy. "But what I want to know is: how important is it to the state of California to pay $300,000 for the Nobel laureate who probably isn't teaching very much at all?"

Elaine Kim, a professor of Asian American Studies at UC Berkeley, believes the university already prioritizes reputation over undergraduate teaching. "At the basis of all of this is a kind of hierarchy that governs the way educational decisions are made," she said at a recent rally organized by Save Korean Studies at Berkeley. Lecturers, she said, are at the bottom of that hierarchy.

Many language instructors at UC Berkeley are forced to become lecturers instead of tenured professors because they don't have PhD's. It's cheaper for the university to hire lecturers, and they tend to teach more classes than tenured professors. And UC Berkeley isn't the only school hiring on the cheap — national trends indicate that universities everywhere are increasing their number of "temporary" faculty.

Cal's language lecturers aren't the only ones feeling pressure. In addition to making enrollment in popular classes more difficult, state cuts also are taking a toll on tuition and student fees, which will increase next year for the sixth time in seven years. At the most recent meeting of the UC Regents, in Los Angeles, more than 100,000 students rallied to protest these hikes.

According to a report released by the Academic Senate in March, Schwarzenegger's budget cuts "accelerate[s] the redefinition of the University of California away from a public university and toward a 'public-private partnership'" in which the school relies heavily on high student fees, private sponsorships, and philanthropic donations for its core budget. This same report indicated that less than 20 percent of UC's budget now comes from the state of California.

Still, applications to UC Berkeley reached record highs this year, increasing by 9.8 percent from last year. The trend follows that of the ever-increasing population of California, which rose by 35 percent between 1984 and 2004. Despite this steep rise, state funding for higher education decreased by 9 percent during this same time, making higher education the only major part of the state's budget that grew more slowly than the population.

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