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The ASIANetwork: A Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges to Promote Asian Studies

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In its beginning, the purpose of the ASIANetwork was simple enough. Since the end of the Second World War, contacts with and interest in Asian affairs had burgeoned, and a corre­sponding expansion of positions in higher education insured that Asian Studies would reach into the domain of private liberal arts colleges. The concurrent for­mation of regional associations of liberal arts colleges established the notion that a pooling of resources would expand opportunities for faculty and students to travel and study. The idea of an associa­tion of liberal arts colleges to promote the study of Asia on their own campuses followed in line with all of these promis­ing developments.

Along with opportunity went needs. These needs comprise the three E’s of Asian Studies: expansion, enrichment, and extension. Often Asianists at liberal arts colleges were solitary figures. The acquisition of financial resources and personnel—by means of a development campaign, grants to retool faculty, or even the addition of part-time staff—posed a “how to” challenge for Asian Studies. In particular, the provision of language train­ing emerged as a goal for expansion.

Enrichment could take place at many levels, but primarily it meant keeping fac­ulty in touch with a network of profession­als concerned with teaching and learning. Teaching techniques employing textual sources, films, videos, and role-playing could be employed. New subjects could be inserted into course syllabi. The Internet, the fax machine, the newsletter, and the annual conference could help to construct and maintain a conversation among historians, linguists, musicologists, sociologists, economists and philosophers. The experiences of students could be so­licited and used to illustrate valuable projects and learning styles.

Finally, the extension of learning about Asia could take the form of travel oppor­tunities, foreign study programs, and the availability of visiting scholars, politicians, and business executives from overseas. Here was an agenda displaying variety and complexity.

In 1992, this agenda was clarified in two Asian Studies conferences of liberal arts colleges, one hosted by St. Andrews Col­lege and another organized by Colorado College and the Japan Study Program of Earlham College. The two groups merged in 1993 to form the ASIANetwork, A Con­sortium of Liberal Arts Colleges to Pro­mote Asian Studies, an organization now affiliated with the Association for Asian Studies.

The ASIANetwork Conference

The principal assembly of the organiza­tion is the ASIANetwork Conference, held annually in April and attended by faculty from liberal arts colleges and universities throughout North America and Asia. The ASIANetwork focuses its mission on teaching. Keynoters have included Perry Link, Princeton University, whose vision for Chinese language teaching has shaped programs across the country; Ainslie Embree, Columbia University, whose edi­torial leadership has produced excellent classroom source materials; and Barbara Metcalf, University of California-Davis and past president of the Association for Asian Studies, who described anecdotally her professional journey as a teacher/ scholar. Round table discussions, plenary presentations, and audio-visual showings carry forward the organization’s strong push toward excellence in teaching, its encouragement of grant proposal writing, and its debates over curriculum issues. Faculty input generates sessions on teach­ing the survey course, teaching about Korea, teaching about art, resource development and grant opportunities, faculty development, and textual and video sources.

The ASIANetwork conferences include time for conferees to meet one another and talk over matters of mutual concern in Asian Studies. Their conversations continue well past the conference through collaborative efforts, via e-mail and snail mail, and on the pages of the organization’s newsletter, The ASIA-Network Exchange. The conversations often move through the organization’s Colorado headquarters. The Asian Stud­ies Program at Colorado College has con­tributed an office, utilities, and institutional support, such as e-mail access, for the ASIANetwork. The Network has bylaws and a nine-member elected Board of Directors, whose members serve three-year terms.

Curriculum Development

ASIANetwork debates over the issue of curricular breadth vs. depth illustrate a current dilemma institutions face in course development. A liberal arts college with an enrollment of 1,800 and a full-time faculty of 150 cannot afford specialists covering the variety of relevant regions and disciplines. In practice, broad Asian sur­vey courses combine an area emphasis reflecting historic interests of the college, recent careful faculty/administrative deci­sions to create a specialty within Asian Studies, enthusiastic “retooling” of current faculty interested in Asia, or country-focused foundation support for curricular development.

To serve the ongoing discussions of cur­ricultim design, the ASIANetwork offers faculty a resource collection of syllabi. Thomas Coburn, St. Lawrence University, is one of a team whose course, “Introduc­tion to Asian Studies,” is broad based and multidisciplinary and introduces students to selected common topics, past and present, in India, China, Japan, and South­east Asia. The Asian Studies program at Kenyon College emphasizes Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Hierarchy and power in this specific area are the focus of an an­thropology course, “Cultures of Southeast Asia,” taught by Rita Kipp. Her students think about such questions as, “What kinds of power relations characterize the ‘egali­tarian’ peoples of Southeast Asia?” “How and when did hierarchical polities emerge in the region?” and “Is the state in South­east Asia different in kind from those that we know in Western history?”

Even more focused is Eleanor Zelliot’s “History of Classical India” at Carleton College. In the April 1995 ASIANetwork Exchange, Zelliot outlined the pedagogy of the class, “The Research Statement as a Teaching Tool.” Zelliot’s students de­velop research proposals demonstrating what they would study ‘if they had an ad­ditional four weeks devoted to examining a wide range of research materials. Zelliot finds that the research proposal probes down below the surface of a survey course. Jenny Wong, Zelliot’s student, submitted an example of a research statement she developed on the subject of “Conversion to Islam in Classical India.”


Zelliot’s discussion of a successful teaching technique underscores the ASIANetwork’s goal to promote strategies for active learning and class participation. Members share very practical suggestions such as comparing the perspectives on Hong Kong of print news media in Tokyo, Delhi, and Singapore, researching position papers on the issue of Kashmir, or, after having studied the Japanese poet Bash6, writing haiku. They challenge their stu­dents with themes of regional and world­wide importance, such as that of human rights. The 1995 ASIANetwork Confer­ence inaugurated a three-year focus on human rights in Asia with a discussion led by Henry Rosemont, Jr., St. Mary’s Col­lege, Maryland. Curriculum design and good teaching in Asian Studies increas­ingly point toward the pressing need for expansion of Asian language instruction.

Language Study

ASIANetwork institutions are directly meeting the challenge to provide their students Asian language instruction. Japanese and Chinese are most frequently offered, and indeed are often prerequisites for students interested in studying in Japan, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. But the case for teaching a variety of Asian languages is complicated. What are the opportunities to study Hindi, Thai, or Korean? Upon returning from an intensive year of study, conversation, and participa­tion in student life at Waseda University, can the enthusiastic student build on his/her growing Japanese language proficiency in advanced courses at the home college? How does a college begin to increase its Chinese language library holdings?

The ASIANetwork offers a forum for the airing of creative ideas. St. John’s College, Santa Fe, faculty member Ralph Swentzell has developed computer programs with the goal of making classical Chinese and San­skrit texts more accessible in the original languages to the general, liberal arts stu­dent. Faculty from Augustana College in Illinois have outlined in detail for ASIANetwork institutions the process by which they successfully received Japan Foundation support for the appointment of a Japanese language instructor and enhancement of library holdings in Japanese. Both Beloit College and the Program for Inter-Institutional Collabora­tion in Area Studies (PICAS) at the Uni­versity of Michigan in Ann Arbor provide summer sessions of intensive total immer­sion in Asian language study. Again, Asian language instruction will be a focus of the 1996 ASIANetwork Conference.

Study Abroad

Study in Asia is often the capstone of an academic major or minor and funda­mentally enhances linguistic skills. ASIANetwork member institutions par­ticipate in a great variety of study abroad programs. On the one hand, some institu­tions have exchange programs such as Valparaiso University’s with Hangzhou University, or Central College’s with Zheijiang University. On the other hand, several colleges regularly conduct pro­grams at sites in Asia, such as Simon’s Rock College of Bard’s program at the Conservatory of Balinese Music and Dance in Bali, and Davidson College’s Semester-in-India in Madras. Special courses are offered occasionally on a one-time basis, such as the St. Andrews College winter term session in Nepal on Environment and Development.

The expense of study abroad programs in Asia has encouraged ASIANetwork members to consider cooperating more closely with one another so as not to duplicate limited resources. As part of this initiative, the ASIANetwork will publish a directory of programs its institutions either sponsor or participate in.

The ASIANetwork Consultancy

A grant from the Henry Luce Founda­tion in 1994 established the ASIA-Network’s Consultancy Program. The Consultancy Program offers distinctive opportunities for planning that relate very specifically to a given campus.

The ASIANetwork member institutions represent many stages in the evolution of Asian Studies programs. Some, such as the Asian Studies program at Wittenberg Uni­versity, celebrating its Silver Anniversary in 1995, are well established. Wittenberg is the founder of a national honor society, Epsilon Alpha Sigma, to recognize stu­dents of exceptional academic achieve­ment in the area of East Asia. The college’s students edit and publish The East Asian Studies Journal, the only undergraduate journal of its kind for Asian Studies.

When Eckerd College was founded in 1958, a two-semester course in Asian Civilization was required of all students. Recently, a resurgence of interest in inter­national studies led to the creation of a new Comparative Educational Studies major with the option of a concentration on the United States, Japan, China, and Taiwan.

Wittenberg University and Eckerd College are examples of ASIANetwork institutions which have much to offer in practical discussions about the expansion, enrichment, and extension of Asian Stud­ies. The Consultancy Program shares this experience with its member institutions.

The Consultancy Program selects and finances faculty experienced in establish­ing and developing Asian Studies programs to visit and provide assistance to Network institutions. In its first semes­ter of operation, the Consultancy agenda included three projects in which teams of two consultants visited Eckerd College, Elon College, and Illinois Wesleyan University. In the fourth undertaking, a representative of The College of Asian and Western Learning, Muhlenberg College, traveled to Colorado College to learn about the Colorado College Block Plan.

The topics discussed during the Consultancy visits of one to two days’ duration reflect both the unique situations of each institution and some common concerns of liberal arts colleges. The Eckerd College Consultancy considered ways to infuse Asian culture into all of the college’s curriculum. Faculty, students, and administration, along with consultants Gregory Guldin, Pacific Lutheran University, and John Myers, Simon’s Rock College of Bard, examined ways to foster cross-cultural understanding, pinpointed innovations in teaching Asian culture, and centered on the Fine Arts in under¬graduate education. Illinois Wesleyan University has decided to establish a minor in Asian Studies, and to accomplish this goal, faculty will retrain in Asian Studies fields. Consultants Van Symons, Augustana College, and Madeline Chu, Kalamazoo College, participated in the discussion on developing priorities and long-range planning and in coordinating the new minor field with the existing International Studies program.

Madeline Chu, Consultancy Coordinator, summarized the first set of Consultancy visits: “The ASIANetwork consultants share a common background with the Asian Studies faculty members or those struggling for the Asian Studies causes, of the host institutions. Their vis¬its help bolster the positions of the Asian Studies colleagues and validate their per¬spectives, energizing them for consolidat¬ing and implementing these perspectives.”

ASIANetwork Visiting Scholars and Visiting Professors Programs

The ASIANetwork’s Visiting Scholars and Visiting Professors Programs offer two avenues toward meeting campus goals of cross-cultural understanding and retooling faculty. Through the former program, Asian scholars from China, India, Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand spend an academic year on North American liberal arts college campuses, and through the latter program, professors from ASIANetwork institutions teach in China.

These programs run under the auspices of one of the ASIANetwork’s founding members, the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia. The United Board, with roots in Asia dating from 1922, is related to some of the finest and most influential academic institutions in twelve Asian countries. Distinguished faculty from these colleges and universi­ties are paired with requests from North American liberal arts institutions. During their tenure, the scholars engage in research and participate in campus and community life, giving lectures and presentations. Colleges which hosted scholars during 1994-1995 included Augsburg, Beloit, Columbia, Davidson, Dniry, Eastern, Guilford, Hood, Maryville, Rhodes, Seattle Pacific, Thiel, Waldorf, and Westminster.

Through the ASIANetwork Visiting Professors Program, a college’s faculty member teaches for one year in China and is able to bring an Asian perspective back to her/his campus. There are opportunities to establish institutional ties between the Chinese host universities and the home colleges in North America.

The ASIANetwork Exchange, A Newsletter for Teaching About Asia

The conversation about teaching about Asia, a metaphor for the ASIANetwork, takes place in several venues, including the annual April ASIANetwork Confer­ence, the Study Abroad programs, the Consultancies, and the Visiting Scholars and Professors programs. The ASIANetwork Exchange, A Newsletter for Teaching About Asia, which may soon go on-line, is currently a print vehicle published three times a year for conversa­tion and support for the Network.

The ASIANetwork Exchange publishes news about faculty and the posting of new positions, details of conferences and exhibitions of member institutions, and in­cludes descriptive announcements about study abroad programs. The study abroad programs are also seen through the eyes of participating students. Kim Murley, Colorado College ’90, described learning to play the Chinese dulcimer at the Shang­hai Conservatory of Music, as well as the informal instruction she received at the tea houses. Gabriel Presler, Carleton ’94, cau­tioned students about the research hurdles she encountered in Pune when writing a paper on the Jesuits in Maharashtra, and Peter Shapinsky, Kenyon ’96, chose to paint a word picture of a solo visit he made to a castle outside of Tokyo.

The variety of pieces published in the Exchange includes book reviews (e.g., Gilbert Johnston, Eckerd College, on Bar­bara Finkelstein’s Transcending Stereo­types: Discovering Japanese Culture and Education), announcements of initiatives such as Bridge To Asia which conducts book drives on American campuses for colleges, universities, research centers, and government agencies in Asia, articles by faculty (e.g., Rita Pullium, Elon Col­lege, “Study Abroad: Understanding In­dividualism and Collectivism in a Global Village”), and in each issue, a syllabus (e.g., Alfredo Gonzales, Hope College, Encounters with Cultures). “Asia On-Line” is a regular column on electronic communications written by Alice Chin Myers, Simon’s Rock College of Bard.


A variety of general and particular elements have found expression in the organization of the ASIANetwork. In a brief three years, the ASIANetwork not only developed around this combination of opportunities and needs, but also has responded to them with a variety of prac­tical initiatives. The Network has a firm foundation, and all lines are open.

Note: 1996 ASIANetwork Conference

The 1996 ASIANetwork Conference will be held April 26-28 at the Hickory Ridge Conference Center, Lisle, Illinois (suburban Chicago). Among its discussions and plenary sessions, the program will feature Asian language instruction, a continuation of the three-year discussion of human rights in Asia, and practical suggestions for candidates interested in teaching positions at liberal arts colleges.

For information about joining the ASIANetwork and about the ASIANetwork Conference, contact:

Marianna Presler McJimsey

Executive Director

The Colorado College

14 East Cache La Poudre

Colorado Springs, CO 80903

Tel: 719-389-7706; Fax: 719-389-6473 e-mail: [email protected].