Asian American Studies program leaders say there is no ongoing search for a director of Penn's ASAM program — which has been operating without a director since Grace Kao's departure in January 2017 — despite indications from the University administration otherwise.
In an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian this February, Provost Wendell Pritchett said that there was an ongoing search for a full-time ASAM lecturer being conducted by School of Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Fluharty. When asked whether that included a search for a new director of the ASAM program, Pritchett responded, "that's my understanding."
Administrators, students, and faculty members have confirmed there is an ongoing search for a full-time lecturer, but ASAM faculty members and involved students are under the impression that there is no search, however, for a permanent director.
While Fluharty confirmed that the "School of Arts and Sciences remains firmly committed" to ASAM, he did not confirm whether there is still an ongoing search for a director.
“We are always watching to see if appropriate leadership emerges from a departmental faculty search," Fluharty wrote in an email to the DP. "The lecturer search is still in progress, which is not unusual; beyond that I don't comment on the specific details of personnel matters such as ongoing searches."
History professor Eiichiro Azuma, who is currently serving as the ASAM interim director, wrote in an email that English professor Josephine Park will act as the interim director for the 2018-2019 academic year. Aside from that, however, Azuma said he does not believe there is any search for a permanent director.
“As far as we know, there are no 'plans to search for a new director,' not to mention an actual search for that position right now," Azuma wrote.
He added that he and other members of the program had communicated their wish to find a new director for the program to the deans, "but they gave us no commitment or clear answer to our request," he wrote.
ASAM Undergraduate Advisory Board Chair and College senior Lindsey Lui also said "there are no updates" that she's been given regarding the search for a permanent director and that "there are currently no plans for a director," to her knowledge.
Faculty and students affiliated with the program have been lobbying for a new permanent leader ever since longtime former director Grace Kao accepted a position at Yale University in January 2017. Protests erupted across campus as faculty and students rallied for more funding and support for ASAM.
“For many of us, Asian American Studies is our first opportunity to realize the power of our voice, the richness of our history and take pride in our race and culture,” former Asian Pacific Student Coalition Chair and Wharton junior Yen-Yen Gao said during a February 2017 protest. “Without ASAM, the legacies of key Asian American figures like Yuri Kochiyama, Grace Lee Boggs, and Vincent Chin would not be preserved.”
Shortly before Kao's departure, the ASAM undergraduate advisory board published an editorial in the DP calling on the University to hire "a standing senior Asian American sociology professor to replace Kao" and to provide more administrative support for the program and other similar ethnic and minority studies programs on campus.
Program leaders have also lobbied for additional funding and more teaching space along with a formal director.
The struggle for administrative support within the ASAM program, however, is not unique across the Ivy League. Penn's peer institutions have largely struggled to create structured Asian American Studies programs.
Penn and Cornell University are the only Ivies currently offering an independent Asian-American studies minor. Princeton University recently announced the creation of a certificate, which is the equivalent to a minor, in Asian-American studies. It will be offered for the first time in fall 2018.