English professor and longtime standing faculty member of the Asian American Studies program Josephine Park will be taking over as the program’s interim director for the next academic year. Students and faculty members, however, still say they fear for the future of the program.
Park has been involved with the ASAM program for 15 years and previously served as the director from 2009 to 2012. She also regularly teaches one of the minor's core courses, "Introduction to Asian American Literature." In her position as interim director, she will no longer be able to teach the course, prompting concerns among students and faculty about the structure of the program.
While the term of the director typically spans three years, Park will only serve for one year as interim director. Park said that the leaders of the program chose to appoint her to the role.
"I am very pleased that Professor Park has agreed to lead the Asian American Studies Program next year. She is a distinguished scholar of Asian American studies and an award-winning teacher with a long commitment to ASAM, including a prior term as director," School of Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Fluharty wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. "The choice to serve with the title of interim director was Professor Park’s."
Grace Kao, a former Sociology professor and ASAM faculty member at Penn, began working at Yale University in early 2017. Her departure from Penn after helping found the program just over two decades ago prompted the resurgence of student and faculty pressure on the administration to give ASAM more attention.
"Dean Fluharty has shown no interest in supporting Asian American Studies," Kao wrote in an email. "Maybe this will change with continued pressure from students if students value the work ASAM does."
Current Interim Director and History professor Eiichiro Azuma expressed support for Park and said that the department felt an internal need for a new director.
“Since I have served as ASAM director for the past five years, there should be a change in leadership,” Azuma wrote in an email to the DP.
Along with leading ASAM, Park will also serve as the undergraduate chair of the English Department for the next three years, a move which Azuma indicated “illuminates the fundamental problem” ASAM continues to face.
“We need another permanent faculty who can provide much needed stable leadership, not to mention teaching in one of the social science fields that have not been covered after Dr. Grace Kao left,” Azuma wrote.
"The problem is that there is no tenured or tenure-track faculty member in Sociology and no one who is willing to serve as Director of the Program," Kao wrote.
Kao added that hiring adjunct lecturers is typically cheaper for universities because they have "no job stability" and are "offered no benefits."
Her departure sparked student protests across campus, which called on administrators to hire additional faculty members for the program.
ASAM's Undergraduate Advisory Board also penned an editorial in the DP titled, "Who Killed Asian American Studies?" The student leaders called upon the University to hire "a standing senior Asian American sociology professor to replace Kao."
Although students and faculty members share confidence in Park’s leadership, many expressed concerns about the future of the program especially since there are no clear plans for Park's replacement after next year.
Seung-Hyun Chung, College senior and co-chair of the ASAM Undergraduate Advisory Board, said the group is still uncertain about the program’s future leadership.
Park said the deans have been cooperative with approving the hiring of a new lecturer, but she would still like to see more work done to secure stable leadership for the program.
“We are always watching to see if appropriate leadership emerges from a departmental faculty search," Fluharty wrote in an email to the DP in March. "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."
"It's hard to keep [the program] going with faculty with other commitments and departments," Park said. "That's another problem with this program structure." Park noted that due to taking over two major administrative roles, she will not be teaching any courses next year.
Although Park has consistently taught the introductory Asian American literature course for several years, she said the program leaders are unsure if they will be able to offer the course next semester because of her administrative duties and the lack of ASAM faculty members.
She added that since the literature course is one of the core classes required to complete the minor, the potential cancellation of the course may result in ASAM leaders reshaping the minor’s requirements.
"I think we need to rethink the structure of our program," Park said. "With Grace [Kao] gone and the difficulty and unlikelihood of replacing her position, we're going to have to rethink what's required of our minor. We can't staff that core course the way we would like."
Students minoring in ASAM are required to take two out of three core courses — "Asian Americans in Contemporary Society," "Introduction to Asian American History," or "Introduction to Asian American Literature."
Chung, who is currently taking an ASAM course taught by Park, said he views the potential restructuring as detrimental to students.
“It’s another greater loss for our program,” Chung said. "With Dr. Park not teaching ASAM [literature], it just means fewer courses and fewer survey courses that can introduce students to Asian American studies."
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