One of the nation’s top Chinese-poetry scholars has been named chairman of UC Irvine’s long-planned department of East Asian languages and literature, which will offer classes begining next fall.
Columbia University professor Pauline R. Yu, a Chinese-American author of two widely praised books and recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, will arrive at UCI July 1 to build the new department within the College of Humanities, according to UCI Executive Vice Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien.
“It is a very important initiative to set up this new department, and Dr. Yu will be a tremendous asset,” Tien said Monday. “She is probably among the top two or three leading scholars in the area of Chinese poetry. Columbia tried very hard to retain her.”
Tien said the new department, which was approved last year by the University of California Board of Regents, will be the cornerstone of a future interdisciplinary major in Asian studies. In addition, Tien said he expects that students will be allowed to use department courses to fulfill UCI’s new multicultural course requirement, which is intended to promote understanding among ethnic groups.
Establishment of a department of East Asian languages and literature “is important, particularly at UCI, because 35% of our undergraduate students are Asian-American,” Tien said. And since Pacific Rim nations are growing in world prominence, Tien said, all students should learn about their cultures.
Yu, who will earn $71,800 as chairman, could not be reached for comment Monday. However, Tien said she was lured by the potential for the new department at UCI and by the opportunity to work with her husband, Theodore Huters, who is chairman of Asian language and literature at the University of Oregon. Huters will be the first faculty member in the department of East Asian language and literature; four others will be hired over 2 years.
Yu’s appointment was applauded by Asian students and staff, who said the action lends force to longstanding promises. Previously, Asian language, history and other courses have been offered in scattered departments. Undergraduate and graduate degrees have been offered in comparative cultures, but no major or minor has been available in Asian cultures.
More than 4,300 of UCI’s 13,000 undergraduates are of Asian descent, the highest percentage of any UC campus. According to UC officials, the University of Hawaii is the only U.S. university with a higher percentage of Asian enrollment.
“UCI is one of the campuses with the highest numbers of Asians in the country,” said Danny Pang, president of the Asian Pacific Student and Staff Assn. at UCI. “We have pushed for this department because a lot of Asian students here are second or third generation, and we have pretty much lost our languages and because Asians here need role models on campus.”
Pang, who is Chinese, predicted that many non-Asian students will also take courses in the new department because Asian languages and knowledge of Japan and other Pacific Rim nations are increasingly important in business and other professional careers. APSSA is an umbrella group of Asian organizations at UCI and counts as members more than 1,000 students and staff.
Shannon Chon, a Korean-American student who was recently elected vice president of UCI’s student government, said: “Asian students want to be taught by someone who speaks the language and (whom) they can identify with. White students have had faculty role models forever; blacks and gay students are starting to get them. Having an Asian woman as chairman of this department makes me feel better about what I can achieve as an Asian woman.”
R. Bin Wong, chairman of the search committee that selected Yu and an associate professor of history at UCI, said Asian languages and literature are “becoming as mainstream as French or Spanish language and literature. There is a recognition within academia that these cultures have produced masterworks.”
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