Budget Cuts to East Asian Department Cut into Scholarship

Because of budget cuts, the East Asian Languages and Cultures (EALC) department at UC Berkeley has had to cut Chinese, Japanese and Korean courses by over 50%. Here are the numbers from a report by the department on how it will implement the cuts, if it’s numbers you want:

  1. Percentage of classes to be cut from each language:
    Japanese: 40%
    Chinese: 54%
    Korean: 66%
  2. Numbers of students to be cut from next year’s classes (this doesn’t include the hundreds we already can’t accommodate):
    Chinese: 550
    Japanese: 496
    Korean: 484

The result is this:

For the department itself, this means a likely change in the major (that is, dumbing it down) by reducing the amount [sic] of required courses.

This should already be a red flag, that budget cuts have now forced the department to cut requirements. Though every department must be judicious about the tension between the necessity of rigorous requirements and the need for sufficiently free choice for students to pursue lines of inquiry off the beaten path, cutting money isn’t really the way to do it. This is not about keeping an ivory tower disengaged from the world: it’s about having and cultivating scholarship not beholden to mistaken notions of profit and “usefulness”. The university must be more than a haven for pursuing arcane knowledge, but it must also be more than a glorified training mill that indoctrinates students with politically correct postmodernism and feels satisfied that it has not sold out because it has made “socially conscious” graduates.

The report continues its discussion about the ramifications of its budget cuts:

It may also mean cutting the Korean program entirely. This would be quite devastating for both the undergraduate and graduate programs. It would also be scandalous, considering the great demand across the campus. Though it may be true that the budget situation will change at some later date, we cannot sustain cuts like this and maintain our present curriculum. The only rational decision is to downsize now. But there are larger implications for the campus beyond EALC. Most of our language teaching is not for our own students, but is service to the university at large. We can no longer provide [this] service to the university.

Indeed, the results of these cuts are far-reaching, and they will affect not only the university but even the state of East Asian scholarship globally:

If the cuts remain into the near future we will likely have to limit enrollment to EALC students. This would mean that students in departments like Economics, Political Science, and History would not be able to enroll. The logical implication here is that graduate students in those departments cannot expect to be able to take the necessary languages, making Ph.D. work in a number of areas no longer feasible.

The university cannot forget that it has historically been at the forefront of Sinological scholarship for many decades, having even been one of the few schools to offer Manchu as late as 1996. For many years Berkeley was where the late Prof. Yuen Ren Chao did his academic work. Together with such schools as Harvard and Chicago it has been one of the best schools in the world for Sinology. For the California government to now effectively remove these areas of learning from the public discourse is a scandalous disservice.

Not only, then, has the university had to excise its liberal arts requirements for education in the Western intellectual tradition and replace them with a more haphazard set of requirements, but it has now had to starve students of exposure to Eastern literature, history and philosophy unless they were the initiated who would choose to specialize in those areas and declaw themselves and their research. Enough with restrictive specialization! If anyone was concerned about a Western-civilization-centred curriculum being restrictive, this has been replaced instead with the restrictions of overspecialization and something dangerously close to what C.S. Lewis called the abolition of man.

I’m not a believer in money being a silver bullet, but these budget cuts will have serious consequences unless more funding comes sooner rather than later. Shame on those who decided to cut East Asian studies rather than cutting waste elsewhere.

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