EDITORIAL: Commend BAATF campus organization efforts
A student group called the Brandeis Asian American Task Force emerged in the public eye last Wednesday, calling upon Interim President Lisa Lynch and other administrators in an email campaign to sign a contract promising the creation of an Asian American Studies department. BAATF gave the administration a one week deadline to sign off on their demands. That deadline is today.
This editorial board commends the coordinated efforts of BAATF. Their movement stems from a tradition of Brandeis student activism and comes in the wake of a successful Concerned Student 2015 sit-in. However, creating an entire department involves multiple constraints, limitations which cannot be circumvented entirely. This Board recommends that an abbreviated version of the program be introduced into the curriculum before creating a full department.
Creating any academic department involves multiple steps: the development of a curriculum, approval from an academic oversight committee external to Brandeis, finding professors with the expertise to fulfill the mission of the department as well as supporting staff. Even if the University signs off on the deal today, it could likely be years before a fully-fledged department becomes a reality.
Funding presents another complicating factor. According to our estimates outlined in this week’s news article, the three tenure-track professors demanded could cost the University approximately 1.56 million dollars over four academic calendar years. Hiring new tenure-track faculty would be a substantial investment Brandeis must weigh carefully, along with its obligation to live up to the social justice values of this University.
BAATF President Hin Hon (Jamie) Wong ’17 conducted a survey in November, meant to indicate student interest, which determined that 70 percent of students surveyed would like to take an introductory Asian American studies course, 40 percent of respondents were interested in a minor and 37 percent of respondents might be interested in the minor. The survey draws from a small pool of 121 respondents — too statistically insignificant to represent accurate interest. We urge the University to devote resources to more accurately gauging interest.
Initially, the University should hire one faculty member to teach an introductory Asian American course and revive a class last taught in the American studies department in Fall 2011 called “The Asian American Experience.” The University could then assess whether it has the resources and interest to create a major or minor.
The Administration and BAATF should work together to figure out how to make Asian American studies a greater part of the University’s broad academic profile. In light of this, the process might be slower than is preferable, but bureaucratic obstacles do not necessarily equate with indifference on the part of individual administrators. This approach will allow the program to build naturally and ensure a base of student interest and funds critical to its future success.