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A Major Improvement

Upgrade of Asian American studies program at UCI was fitting

May 25, 1997

UC Irvine has grown over the years to have the highest percentage of Asian Americans of any campus in the prestigious University of California system.

As part of its proper efforts to meet the needs of its students, the school's administrators, faculty and students have grappled with the sometimes thorny question of how to offer classes and programs that better reflect the makeup of the campus.

The school's decision to upgrade its Asian American studies program to a major course of study represents a logical and proper outgrowth of years of progress.

The university's Los Angeles and Berkeley campuses have had such majors for some time. But at Irvine, students previously were able to choose the Asian American curriculum only as a minor. That required only six courses, from selections such as the history department's "Chinatowns in American Society" or social science's "Japanese American History."

The major will require three mandatory lower-division courses and 14 upper-division electives.

The elevated status of the program reflects valid new perspectives in education and a recognition of the diversity across America, not just on the Irvine campus. That diversity continues to grow, despite increasingly vocal but shortsighted attacks on immigration outside the gates of academia.

Four years ago, Asian American students took turns fasting for 24 hours to pressure the UCI administration to live up to its promise to hire professors to teach in an Asian American program then under development.

The school has had a good record on diversity in general and has been requiring undergraduate students to take courses in multicultural studies for years.

African Americans, Latinos and members of other minority groups for decades have pressed universities to offer at least courses and sometimes majors in fields representing their own history and culture. Schools must beware of adding courses haphazardly out of a misguided notion of "political correctness." But they also must acknowledge the many cultures, religions and languages that have gone into making up this country.

The Asian American studies major at UC Irvine undoubtedly will attract students whose ancestors came from Europe or South America as well as those tracing their roots back to Asia. The more students learn about the lives of their own forebears and their classmates' ancestors in this country, the better appreciation they should have of why the nation has developed as it has, and the better they will be prepared to participate in the multiethnic society of the future.

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