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A University committee charged with researching the Asian-American community at Penn began meeting last week to gather data and address complaints about the role of the ethnic group at the University. Prompted by requests from the Asian Pacific Student Coalition and the Pluralism Committee of University Council, University President Judith Rodin formed the President's Committee on Asian/Pacific-American Student Affairs last semester to address complaints about Asian-American studies at Penn, as well as the retention and recruitment of Asian-American faculty members and students. In the September 1997 report on the Agenda for Excellence, the Pluralism Committee explained that Asian-American students, who make up 23 percent of the undergraduate population, believe they are too large of a group to receive attention as an under-represented minority. Yet they still feel their interests are being overlooked. Concerns about the number of Asian-Americans in the faculty and administration came up again in October as part of the debate about Rodin's minority permanence plan. At the time, Asian-American leaders said they were specifically concerned with recruitment and retention of Asian-American faculty members, not just ones of Asian descent. Then-APSC Chairperson Eric Lee, a Wharton senior, said the University was mixing up the two minority groups. The Pluralism Committee had several recommendations for the newly formed presidential committee, led by Vice Provost for Graduate Education Janice Madden: "Examine surveys filled out by Asian-American students, the latest psychological and sociological data on Asian-American issues in higher education and input from Asian Pacific American student leaders." "I formed this committee to develop specific and concrete recommendations based on the Pluralism Committee's report," Rodin said. "I am appreciative of their efforts and look forward to the results of their work." At the end of last semester, Rodin selected a group of faculty members and students who are "especially perceptive and knowledgeable about the Asian-American issues," Madden said. The number of committee members -- which now stands at nine, including one undergraduate and one graduate student -- is likely to increase, according to the Office of the President. Associate Vice Provost for University Life Barbara Cassel, a committee member, will focus primarily on student life issues, such as how the various student-service offices deal with the Asian-American community. The committee will also present a comprehensive survey of which departments have Asian-American administrators or faculty members. The University currently has 99 Asian-American faculty members out of a total of about 2,000. "The suspicion is that most of [the Asian-American faculty members] are located in the Med School and other areas of the campus that do not come in contact with the undergraduates," said Lee, who is also a committee member. The attempts to pinpoint the precise locations of Asian Americans are due, in part, to concerns expressed in the September report by the Pluralism Committee. In the report, Lee voiced concerns over the "lack of any visible signs of an institutional presence in the form of Asian-American faculty or administrators, which makes it difficult for students to find mentors and advisers." The committee, scheduled to meet four times this semester, also plans to tackle academic concerns by asking the departments and the undergraduate deans of the four main schools how they are addressing Asian American concerns. Another goal will be to examine how to expand and develop the Asian-American Studies Program, which currently offers only a minor. "Self-knowledge and self-studies are very important," Madden said. "We want to reserve Asian Americans and non-Asian Americans the right to learn about the history and contributions Asian Americans have made to this nation." The APSC -- which has been the driving force behind the committee -- has been discussing these issues with other minority groups and the University administration. Lee said these discussions bridged communication between different interests. "Now, where that communication will go is up to the future leaders," he said. Newly elected APSC Chairperson Seung Lee, a College junior, said the group plans to expand its scope beyond campus issues. "There is a need for the APSC to integrate into the Asian Pacific American community in Philadelphia," he said. "We want to work together with the community, to pool resources and make those resources available for students."

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