Pauline R. Yu, a noted Chinese poetry scholar who launched UC Irvine’s department of East Asian languages and literature, confirmed Wednesday that she may be leaving to become UCLA’s dean of humanities.
Yu, who chairs the UCI department, said she has “provisionally accepted” the UCLA dean’s post. Although UCLA’s humanities division has tapped her as dean, that school’s East Asian languages and cultures department still must approve her appointment as a faculty member, and the dean’s post must be ratified by the UC Board of Regents. But Yu acknowledged that UCI has started looking for her replacement.
The loss of Yu, 44, who is one of the nation’s top Chinese poetry scholars, would be a blow to UCI’s efforts to build a cadre of Asian-American faculty members. She is UC Irvine’s only Asian-American department chair, a spokeswoman said.
“It was a very hard decision for me to make,” Yu said. “It’s not an easy choice to leave UCI. It’s been a very supportive campus.”
Some students protested last spring that UCI, which has the largest Asian-American student body on the U.S. mainland, is not moving rapidly enough to recruit Asian-American professors. About 40% of UCI’s students last spring were Asian-American. About 10% of the school’s 1,011 professors, including 8.5% of the 615 with tenure, are Asian or Asian-American.
The university is continuing efforts to recruit more Asian-American professors, a spokeswoman said.
Yu built the East Asian languages and literature department from scratch. When she and her husband, Theodore Huters, arrived in Irvine in 1989, they were the department’s only two faculty members. Since then Yu has hired seven more professors, four of whom are tenured, and eight lecturers.
During the department’s first year, two levels of Japanese and three levels of Chinese language instruction were offered; this year, there are five levels of each, plus three levels of Korean and five lecture courses on the literature and culture of Japan and China. More than 2,000 students enrolled in the department’s courses last year, and about 60 undergraduates were majoring in the field.
This fall, the department launched a Ph.D. program, with four students.
In addition to managing the growing department, Yu has been an avid fund-raiser. She has collected grants from foreign corporations to support study abroad and research, started an endowed graduate fellowship in Chinese literature named for former UCI executive vice chancellor Chang-Lin Tien and helped build an East Asian library collection that now includes more than 60,000 volumes.
She also spurred foundations to fund two of the nine professorships that were not originally budgeted in the department.
“Four years ago, she developed and founded this department on campus. Before, it was nonexistent,” Eileen Chun, a senior who heads UCI’s Asian-Pacific Student Assn., said in explaining Yu’s impact on the campus. “It’s important to students because it validates who they are. It shows the university is giving it more attention.”
Administrative officials at UCI and UCLA said Wednesday they could not comment on Yu’s current situation other than to acknowledge she is being considered for the UCLA dean post.
“We are delighted to be discussing this appointment with a scholar of Pauline’s enormous talent,” said Brian Copenhaver, provost of UCLA’s College of Letters and Sciences. Copenhaver declined to elaborate.
Mary Ann Takemoto, co-chair of UCI’s Asian Faculty and Staff Assn., said the move “would be a very significant loss in our Asian-American faculty. And because of the large population of Asian-American students we have at UCI, we need Asian-American faculty to be role models for the students. Dr. Yu has been very well-received and well-liked here.”
Student reaction also was gloomy.
“I think it’s a great loss. She’s done a lot for UCI,” said Chun, 21, a social sciences major whose organization represents 15 Asian student groups on campus. “We certainly dislike seeing her go because she’s provided great leadership. We just wish her well and hope her career continues upward.”
Yu was lured from Columbia University to UC Irvine in 1989; her recruitment was considered an academic coup by UCI.
Then-Vice Chancellor Chang Lin-Tien said in 1989 that the hiring of Yu was “a very important initiative” by UC Irvine. “She is probably among the top two or three leading scholars in the area of Chinese poetry,” Tien said. “Columbia tried very hard to retain her.”
UCI officials in 1989 had said they envisioned Yu’s hiring as leading to broader Asian studies at the campus.
Asian-American students at UC Irvine have long complained that too little academic attention has been given to Asian studies. Last spring some students fasted and others invaded the campus administration building in demonstrations aimed at forcing UC Irvine to establish an Asian-American studies department.
UCI spokeswoman Karen Newell Young said the university hopes to offer some Asian-American studies courses this year, with the goal of creating a minor concentration in the field by 1994-95.
An assistant professor in Asian-American cultural history and Chinese intellectual history and a lecturer in studio art recently have been hired, Young said. The appointments of a sociologist specializing in Asian-American issues and an academic counselor and director of the Asian-American studies program are in the works.
UCLA sociologist Sunghee Nam will teach Korean studies next year as a visiting professor, she said.
Yu said Wednesday that she sympathized with the students’ frustration. But, she said, universities have difficulty finding Asian-American faculty members in many fields, especially arts and humanities.
“Not many Asian-Americans go into the humanities, and we’re hoping that more will do so in the future,” Yu said. “Here at UCI, we have quite a few Asian-American faculty (members) represented in the sciences, and the sciences are where most Asian-American students traditionally have gone in the past.
“I had to resist my own parents when I chose the humanities. My parents were both physicians, and they expected me to do that.”
Instead, Yu did her undergraduate work at Harvard in French and German history and literature, graduating in 1971. She earned a master’s degree in comparative literature at Stanford University in 1973 and a doctorate in the same discipline, also from Stanford, in 1976.
Yu and Huters live in Irvine and have three children.
Faculty Imbalance The departure of Pauline Yu will reduce the already small ranks of UC Irvine’s Asian-American professors. Faculty ethnicity, rounded to nearest percentage: White: 83% Other: Less than 1% Black: 2% Latino: 4% Asian: 10% Source: UC Irvine