Chinese program chair alleges discrimination

Rebecca Teale

Yu-Shih Chen never throws anything away.
Chen, chair of the Chinese program in the College of Liberal Arts, has saved departmental charts and correspondence with University officials that point an accusing finger at CLA administrators.
For the last four years, Chen said CLA administrators have harassed and racially discriminated against the minority faculty members in the program. As a result, she said, administrators continuously cut faculty and funding from the program.
“The effect of the concerted effort of the college has been to forcibly make the Chinese language and literature program to appear ineffectual, inferior and mismanaged,” Chen wrote in a letter.
“They accomplished this by administrative moves that are dishonest, destructive, arrogantly contemptuous of the student body it should be serving, and against due process and much of the University administrative guidelines,” she said.
Both Chen and CLA Dean Steven Rosenstone acknowledged the allegations of discrimination are under investigation by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action for a year. Officials from the office refused to comment.
However, Rosenstone denies the allegations made by Chen. He said there is no discrimination going on.
He said he feels the Chinese program, which is part of the Institute of Linguistics and Asian and Slavic Languages, is a critical part of the University curriculum. He added that he is in the process of strengthening the program through new faculty hirings.

Overworked and underfunded
But Chen said she and the program can’t wait for help any longer. She spends her day alternating between teaching undergraduates, assisting graduates and administrating the program.
Her office is testimony to her pack-rat tendencies and overworked lifestyle. The brick walls are lined with shelves of books — some arranged neatly, some in disarray. Folders nearly spill their bulging contents onto the floor. She must step atop a swivel desk chair to reach important documents and papers on the top shelf.
Hired in 1993, Chen is one of two tenure-track faculty in the 120-student program. The other, Professor Stephen Wang, is on sabbatical this year.
The failure to hire more faculty after repeated promises has contributed to Chen’s stress and poor health, she said.
Rosenstone said he authorized one faculty search. He also said he did not know of Chen’s illness until a few weeks ago, when she requested leave from one class this quarter. Rosenstone immediately granted the request, he said.
But the complications go much deeper than Chen’s health.
When central administration scheduled $1 million in budget cuts from CLA in 1995, the college stopped searching for replacements for seven departed professors. Three of these cut searches were from East Asian Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, where the Chinese program is housed. Two of the positions would have been in Chinese, one in Japanese.

Critical voices
An external review ordered last spring by Rosenstone brought together professors of Chinese from Michigan, California, Ohio State, Cornell and Washington universities. They formed a committee to evaluate the Chinese program in terms of faculty, curriculum and students.
According to the review, which was a year ahead of schedule, the program is high quality with dedicated professors. But it noted extreme under-staffing. The reviewers recommended the college immediately hire two new faculty members for the program.
The review also mentions “chronic disharmony and fierce competition between the Chinese and Japanese programs,” which were at the time a combined unit. The reviewers observed faculty rivalries prompted by inadequate funding. The disciplines argued over control of what little money remained, according to the report.
Rosenstone said it was only at the recommendation of the committee that the departments split last summer.
However, Chen and Chinese graduate students Alexei Ditter and Ben Ridgway, said the split was the only recommendation Rosenstone heeded.
In November, before the final review of the department, a preliminary meeting was held at Chen’s request. Faculty and administrators discussed the implementation of the recommendations.

Arguments about disharmony
The infighting the reviewers mentioned was discussed at the meeting. Chen said CLA Associate Dean Ann Waltner verbally harassed and threatened her about these internal conflicts. Chen then wrote a letter to Rosenstone requesting Waltner be excused from the committee working on the report.
Chen said she wanted Waltner removed “because of the recurrence of her strongly discriminatory attitude against ethnic-Chinese and faculty in the Linnea and literature program.”
In the letter to Rosenstone, Chen wrote, “Dean Waltner interrupted and began to yell at me in a most menacing manner and voice. My self-defense seemed to have touched off a sore nerve in Dean Waltner. She began to attack me in a very violent manner, screaming that the power differential between me and Sarah (Pradt) was so obvious, that I had done so many things wrong.”
Waltner would not comment on the specifics of the meeting, but she acknowledged that meetings, in general, get heated. She said she has nothing but respect for Chen.
After speaking to Rosenstone about the meeting’s events, Graduate School associate dean Bob Leik wrote a letter which he hoped would clear the air.
In the letter, Leik admits that Waltner spoke forcefully, but he said she did not scream. “This lasted only moments before she said she was sorry, that she lost it,'” Leik wrote.

Faculty funding fights
The main complaint by Chen and the graduate students concerns funds from former CLA dean Julia Davis’ Strategic Initiative Pool. Chen said the fund included $300,000 since fall 1996 for new faculty positions in the East Asian program. However, there is a dispute about how many positions the money was supposed to supply.
Rosenstone said there will be one position filled with the Strategic Initiative money this year, and there was never an authorization for the second position. He said he doesn’t recall communicating this to any students or faculty.
“I think the students and faculty of the Chinese program would have liked the hiring of faculty to have gone like that,” said Rosenstone, snapping his fingers. “There’s no place in the University that has doubled the number of faculty overnight. There are lots of other departments in the college that made requests for two positions and were only given one. There is absolutely no discrimination here whatsoever.”
Michael Taylor was also at the October meeting with Rosenstone. He said Rosenstone committed to restoring the two empty faculty positions.
Taylor, who is now at the University of Chicago, said he would have stayed at the University if it were not for the broken promises.
The students are not the only ones who thought there would be two positions. “It was my understanding that there would be a search for two professors for the Chinese program,” said associate professor Gary Jahn, chair of the Executive Committee of the institute. “I know this changed and I don’t know why, but that was my original impression.”
Ditter and Ridgway said Rosenstone told them in September that $150,000 for a second position had disappeared and there would only be one position.

More alleged inequities
Chen, Ridgway and Ditter said constant money matters prompted the accusations.
Until 1996, Stephen Wang, who is Chinese and has been a professor for 30 years, took home a salary of $37,493. That is slightly less than the salary of the program’s white assistant professor.
“Professor Stephen Wang clearly represents the worst case of exploitation and disrespect,” according to the external review. “It is absolutely unconscionable for (the University) to pay a full professor, who has done so much for Chinese studies at Minnesota, less than incoming assistant professors.”
Rosenstone accounts for Wang’s low salary to his lack of published works. He said the University is a research institution and professors contributing to scholarship are paid more.
Yet Chen said there are other instances of Rosenstone’s neglect of the Chinese program.
Last September, Rosenstone put together a task force on international studies. He invited professors from various departments including African studies and women’s studies to join, but did not ask Chen or faculty from the institute of linguistics to join.
Jahn wrote to Rosenstone requesting the institute be added. Rosenstone refused.
“There are lots of units that aren’t represented on the task force,” Rosenstone said. “There are 28 departments in the college and you can’t have a committee of 28. Those chosen are among the best and the brightest in the college, that is why I selected them for the committee.”
Although there are no Asian professors on the task force, Asian students — the largest minority population on campus — met with the task force. He said because there is a professor of Chinese history, Edward Farmer, on the task force, Chinese studies is represented.
Rosenstone points out there are numerous other departments that offer classes in Chinese studies. Among these are art, geography, political science and history.
Chen disputes the claim that these classes make up for the inadequate funding of the Chinese program.
“I do not see,” she said, “how over-increasing the number of professors of Chinese history to a total of four excuses the dean from keeping the faculty of Chinese language and literature understaffed at two or three.”
Waltner said the Chinese program is not the only department to undergo budget cuts. She said English, one of the largest departments in CLA, has also experienced both faculty and monetary reductions. She said all humanities departments are small and under-funded.
“We don’t do enough in terms of offering courses in Asia(n studies) and we know that,” Waltner said. “We are still open to criticism that we are not doing enough.”
Indeed, neither faculty nor students from the Chinese program have been shy about their criticism.
“Administrators come and go; deans come and go,” Taylor said. “They have no personal commitment nor interest in anything outside their career paths.”