The Development of the Center for Asian and Asian American Studies at Stony Brook
by S. Sridhar

[Fall 2001]
 

More than twenty five people attended the talk by Prof. Sridhar, the largest showing in all of the lecture series. Dr. Sridhar, a distinguished linguist who has received grants from NEH and other foundations, was a captivating speaker.

He showed a short video first, followed by a power point presentation about his experience in establishing the Center for Asian and Asian American Studies at Stony Brook. First came into being was the Center for Indian Studies, at the initiation of students, later joined by the faculty and community. The faculty, mostly from different departments, taught extra loads at the beginning to keep it going. Because of the interest and high enrollment, (60 students signed up, with 40 on waiting list,) the administration under President Shirley Kenny became supportive. In ensuing long negotiations, Dr. Sridhar rejected the offer of a program status and settled for a department in the end. Along the way, they had to overcome many obstacles, including some faculty wanting to remain within their own department with tenures yet desiring to make crucial decisions at the new department. Eventually they come to a compromise by putting everyone under an institute, which is interdisciplinary but within the new department. The head of the institute also being the head of the department to avoid conflicts.

The Center of Indian Studies was very successful in getting mainstream media coverage. They were featured in New York Times, Newsweek, and many other national channels. They were also very successful in getting local support, chiefly by organizing banquets, which they charge $125 per person, and printing journals which they charge $1,000 per page. They rejected the usual format of a whole page of advertisements or congratulatory notes from sponsors. Instead, they put up photographs of Indian arts and historic places, but include the names of sponsors in small types. In this way, the journal has a professional appearance, and they were able to get $250,000 in three years. The contribution of $25 million from Charles Wang added immense prestige and clout to their finally being able to get about 14 faculty lines, making it one of the largest Asian/Asian American Studies department in this country.

Their success can be traced to their ability to build a solid campus coalition spanning many different departments, and extensive outreach to the community via schools, churches, businesses and museums. The combination of Asian and Asian American studies was not without a lot of arguments because of the schism in the two fields. But by putting more focus on the contemporary issues, they were able to create the first department of this kind in the country. Now, in addition to area studies, Asian American studies, they also have trade and technology components.

One of the strongest reasons of their success is in the number of Asian students on campus: 30% of the student body.

 

 

 


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