Binghamton University’s Department of Asian and Asian American Studies is offering three new language majors beginning this semester — Japanese, Korean and Chinese — at a time when language programs are facing cuts across the SUNY system.
These new BU majors were announced about three weeks ago. According to David Stahl, associate professor and chair of the DAAAS, students have already begun signing up.
“The DAAAS currently has about 100 declared student majors and minors,” Stahl said. “Our projection is that we will probably have about 10 students declared in each new major program this year, and, by the fifth year, have 20 signed up for the Japanese major, 25 for Korean and 30 for Chinese.”
In addition to the Japanese, Korean and Chinese minors that have existed for years, the DAAAS offers a specialization track within the Asian and Asian American Studies major where students can focus on just one of these languages.
“For the most part, the other classes are chosen by students depending on their own interests,” Stahl said. “It’s a flexible program.”
According to Donald Nieman, dean of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, these unveiling of new majors is the culmination of years of work.
“Creating a new major takes a long time,” Nieman said. “We have to generate resources, recruit faculty, develop courses and make proposals for the majors to SUNY and the State Department of Education. So, in reality, creation of the new majors began several years ago and is coming to fruition now.”
But these additions come against a background of SUNY budget cuts that have forced other universities to shut down some of their programs as French, Italian, Russian and classics were cut at the University at Albany earlier this year.
BU has also faced the effects of SUNY-wide cuts, which has meant that it has been largely up to the DAAAS to find alternate funding to expand. This has been achieved by grants over the years from the Freeman Foundation, the Korea Foundation and the Japan Foundation. According to Stahl, some of these grants have been used to pay the salaries of new faculty members for three years, with the understanding that the University will then pay the salaries going forward.
“Many of the resources to support development of these majors have been generated externally,” Nieman said. “In addition, the University has invested resources because it believes that these are critical areas … We believed that our students need the opportunity to undertake serious study of Asia, and that necessitates language study.”
The expansion of the department reflects the growing world trend towards globalization.
According to Nieman, the University has no current plan to add more faculty to the DAAAS to support the Japanese, Korean and Chinese majors, and Stahl said that the department is capable of handling the new major requirements based on what they have.
“I would, of course, like to hire additional faculty to teach more advanced language courses, but we have everything in place to do this,” Stahl said.
One DAAAS faculty member who will be a key figure in teaching the more advanced language courses is Mayumi Hirano. Hirano, who teaches Japanese, said she hopes the new majors will be popular with students.
“Some students take the courses because interest in the culture, but some of them are taking them more seriously for their job search,” Hirano said. “I think the new majors will support both type of students. Language and culture have a strong connection. You can learn about a culture without learning a language, but if you learn the language you have deeper understanding because language reflects the culture directly.”
Daniel Puthawala recently switched his major — from Asian and Asian American Studies with an East Asian specialization in Japanese — to Japanese. Puthawala, a senior now double-majoring in Japanese and linguistics, said the switch will help him to pursue graduate study in second language acquisition.
“In reality, [a Japanese major] is a more appropriate label for my study than a mere specialization,” he said. “It’s also much easier to explain a Japanese major than my previous one, which is quite a mouthful.”
But the new majors are not the only changes to the program. The DAAAS also has received approval to start a two-year masters program and a five-year MA/BA program beginning in fall 2012, which, according to Stahl, will be the first of its kind in the SUNY system. The department also has plans to expand their South Asia program, create an Asian American history major and begin a doctoral program.
According to Stahl, the expansion of the department reflects the growing world trend towards globalization.
“We can’t overstate how important Asia is and is going to continue to be to the world,” Stahl said. “We value highly a detailed, informed knowledge about the languages and cultures of these countries, so that when our students interact with them in whatever way, communication is not one-sided.”