Chair, East Asian Studies

One day while a member of the faculty of Sociology at WWU Dean Elich called me into his office and asked if I would be willing to take on the responsibility of being the Chair of the Center for East Asian Studies as the current Chairman was going on a leave of absence.  I agreed and at the next meeting of the faculty of the Center when the Dean made the announcement of my appointment all hell broke loose.  I had never taught a course in the center and was identified as a Latin Americanist and not a Sinologist.  Why the hell was the Dean naming me Chair?

It was pointed out that I spoke a modicum amount of Chinese Mandarin, was the only student at the University of California in Berkeley in 1956 taking a course in Tibetan (got a “B” in the course), and that my Master’s Degree in sociology dealt with social change in 19th Century China and the role of Western Missionaries.  Only when I further pointed out that members of my Masters’ Committee were considered the “Gods of Chinese Studies” did the members of the Center for East Asian Studies relent and allow me to act as Chair of the Center.  But they had one caveat, namely that I was not get involved in the academic program.  That was OK with me as I had other plans for the Center.

Every quarter the faculty would have a “night out” with spouses at a local restaurant where they usually would continue their lunchtime discussion of the meaning of “tzu” in 13th Century Chinese poetry or something similar.  I innocently asked if I could invite an off-campus Chinese scholar to come and give a talk on some subject and perhaps invite some folks from the community to sit in on the presentation.  No concerns were expressed.

I rented a large hall and catered a dinner at $8:00 per plate and charged $12.00 per person.  I got the new Director of the Washington State China Relations Council, Bill Attebury, who was recently the U.S. Economic Attache in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, PRC, to come and talk about business opportunities in China.  I passed the word to the Bellingham business community and had over 60 paying guests.  Wow, were the traditional members of the Center for East Asian Studies pissed!  I was turning the Center from being an intellectual cabal into something that could be of use to the community that was funding the Center!  The faculty was a little happier when I pointed out to them that by virtue of these programs we now had money to send students to China for further studies.

I received a phone call from a friend in the Japanese Consulate in Seattle informing me that a famous Japanese play was coming to Seattle and that I might want to advertise it in Bellingham.  What I did was to call the agent for the theater company and arranged to have an “off Broadway” presentation in ‘little Bellingham’ away from the Big City of Seattle.  All I had to do was to cover all costs for housing and food for the group and share half of the income from tickets.  I agreed.  I found free housing at a local motel and worked on the premise that half of nothing is nothing (in ticket sales) so we could not lose.  As I was a member of the Japanese-American Businessmen’s Association in Seattle and the same in Vancouver, BC, Canada I sent all of them a formal invitation to the U.S. Opening Performance of “Make Up”, the famous Japanese play.  We had more persons attending the Bellingham show than they did in Seattle.  When the group played in New York City they got a half-page great review in the New York Times.  But they failed to mention that the show opened in Bellingham, Washington.  This, again, added funds into our war chest for sending or supporting our students in China. It also raised the visibility of the Center for East Asian Studies way beyond the walls of Western Washington University.

I had noticed in the media that American travelers in the PRC were being employed by Chinese Universities to teach English.  I felt that this was an opportunity for WWU to send more students to China so I contacted a friend in the state legislature who had served on the Bellingham City Council with me and asked if he could get some funding for a program to send our students to China.  He was immediately successful so I inserted a small ad (about 4 x 4) in a single issue of the Christian Science Monitor stating that WWU was seeking “Young professionals of any age to teach English to co-professionals in the People’s Republic of China.”  We received over 400 applications in the first week.  When the program closed down years latter we had sent over 1,000 English as a Second Language teachers to over 200 Chinese Universities.  Now I would call that a success but some of the faculty were angry, saying that we were turning WWU into a trade school.

I made several trips to China to work out faculty and student exchanges that were very successful.  For example, I got several Chinese universities to accept our students for a three-month experience in the PRC, all expenses being paid by them from Hong Kong to the university and back to Hong Kong in RMB, the Chinese currency as the Chinese universities did not have dollars.  The Western students, on the other hand, would pay for their summer program in China in dollars, not only for tuition for the summer courses but for room and board in the university dorms.  They paid their own airfare to Hong Kong and back to the US.  For every three students we sent to China we were able to bring a Chinese teacher or grad student to WWU for a nine-month stay, all expenses except airfare being paid with the money the students paid for their courses, room and board at WWU.  The Chinese students and faculty flew on Chinese airlines so they did not need dollars to come to Bellingham.

A little creativity goes a long way and I feel I made some real contributions to Western Washington University’s involvements in Asia but several of the more conservative faculty were very vocally angry with my actions until the day I retired.  That was their problem.  I enjoyed what I was doing and having outlived all of them I feel that I have won the final battle.