When Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Kari Knutson Miller tossed her jacket at Academic Senate Chair Stephen Stambough for introducing her as “an older face in a new position,” she received a round of applause at the Thursday meeting, the first of 2018.
However, that moment was dwarfed by the uproarious cheers from the crowd all around Pollak Library North 130 when the consent calendar was approved.
The biggest item on the calendar was the Academic Senate’s recommendation to Cal State Fullerton President Fram Virjee to approve a proposal for the Asian American Studies program to become an official department in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
“They are one of the hardest working departments,” Sen. Alexandro Gradilla said. “Asian American Studies provided a model for which I was able to help rebuild Chicano Studies and eventually African American Studies.”
The Asian American Studies program was established in 1996 and hired its first full-time faculty member, Thomas Fujita-Rony, Ph.D., in 1998. It wouldn’t be until 1999 that an Ethnic Studies Bachelor of Arts degree in Asian American Studies was approved.
Fujita-Rony is responsible for the development of a lot of its existing courses, Program Coordinator Eliza Noh, Ph.D., said.
“There was actually no resistance. The administration was very supportive, the faculty were supportive. It happened pretty easily to get the first few courses and the minor approved,” Noh said.
The program began at the request of students, with Professor Emeritus Craig Ihara heading it as one of the first supporting faculty allies before any dedicated tenure-track professors were hired, Noh said.
Though he is no longer the program’s coordinator, Fujita-Rony now serves as a member of the Academic Senate and acted as a liaison between the two during the creation of the proposal.
“I think it’s a happy day for me. It’s a happy day for the University and certainly it’s a great feeling,” Fujita-Rony said.
Asian American Studies has not tried to attain department status before because the faculty have been “working hard teaching and researching” and believed such a transition would be harder than it turned out to be, Noh said.
“Because we are already functioning like a department, we have our own budget, it’s just business as usual. People will just now see that it’s a more accurate description of what we do as an institutional structure within Cal State Fullerton,” Noh said.
She said the transition will grant the program more “institutional permanence” and allow the Asian American Studies curriculum to expand further, opening up more opportunities for community partnerships in the future.
The move has received support from four different Humanities and Social Sciences deans and two program performance reviews.
“When we’re writing recommendation letters, it’s much nicer to put it out on letterhead that says ‘Department of’ because it’s so widely recognized,” Fujita-Rony said.
The move to department status would also be good for showcasing the diversity of Cal State Fullerton, both Fujita-Rony and Noh said.
In the fall 2017 semester, 20.5 percent of the student body was Asian, according to the Institutional Research and Analytical Studies department. It was the second largest represented ethnic group on campus behind Hispanic students.
“It’s an important field for all students to have knowledge of. It’s not just for Asian-American Pacific Islander students, everyone should have an understanding of who Americans are and where the U.S. is in the world,” Noh said.
The president’s office receives documents from the Academic Senate to approve about a week after a meeting, Stambough said. He could not comment on Virjee’s thoughts regarding the proposal, but mentioned that recommendations up to this point have been positive.
Fujita-Rony said he is confident Virjee will side with Asian American Studies.
“Judging from his reaction, he’s going to sign. I can’t imagine any circumstance where he wouldn’t,” Fujita-Rony said.
Also approved as part of the Senate’s consent calendar was a series of 11 new program proposals, including a degree in athletic training for the Department of Kinesiology and a concentration in Intercultural Management for Mihaylo College of Business and Economics’ International Business Program.