College keeps Japanese language but drops position in Japanese sociology

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

After a debate that lasted nearly two years, the college has committed to continuing the Japanese program within the Modern Languages and Literatures department. A Freeman Foundation grant of one million dollars provided the start-up funding for the program in 2002-2003. The grant was a “spend-out” grant that runs out this year, meaning that the college had to decide whether it could afford to assume the costs of the Japanese program within its regular budget.

“The Council on Educational Policy spent last year reviewing the quality of the program and concluded that it was wonderful,” said Provost Connie Hungerford, “but we had to ask ourselves, ‘Is Japanese a priority?'”With one professor and two language instructors, Hungerford said, keeping Japanese is “not an inexpensive proposition.”

Ultimately, the college concluded that it could afford the Languages and Literatures component of the program, but not the position in Sociology and Anthropology currently filled by Professor Aya Ezawa. “We were very pained that we couldn’t keep this position,” said Hungerford, “but we simply can’t afford the whole package,” said Hungerford. Because Ezawa is on leave this year, she will remain at the college through the end of next year.

The money for the Japanese program is coming from a variety of sources, including a vacant faculty line for which the replacement had already been hired and savings from the Modern Languages and Literatures department. President Al Bloom will also be going on a fundraising trip to Japan in order to raise money from Japanese alumni. According to Hungerford, “it takes at least four million dollars in endowment to spin off the money required for this program.”

Japanese Professor William Gardner said that while he “knew there was no guarantee” that his position would continue when he agreed to come here, he was excited about the possibility of building a strong new Japanese program at Swarthmore.

“There’s been strong student interest,” said Gardner. “Most of our peer schools teach Japanese, and I think students were surprised that we didn’t.” This interest has manifested itself through enrollment; there have been between forty to sixty students enrolled in the Japanese section for every year of the program, a number that includes Japanese language, Japanese literature, and literature in translation courses. Gardner also pointed to the fact that “Japanese is a big support for the Asian Studies program… we help to flesh out their course offerings beyond merely Chinese culture.”

Will the Japanese program come under question again? Every time a tenure-track position becomes open, the college has to think about whether it can still afford to keep that position, but now that the college has made a commitment, said Hungerford, “the Japanese program is as secure as anything else here.”

Japanese students and others will benefit from this decision, said Gardner. “Our student body is becoming more international and diverse, and adding courses that reflect this fact can only lead Swarthmore in the right direction.”

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