While people across China and the world celebrate Lunar New Year (Chinese New Year), IUP has reduced the number of faculty who can teach Asian and other non-Western studies. This comes at a time when colleges and universities across the nation are de-emphasizing cross-cultural education, even though the United States may benefit from more experts in China and Asia.
The Asian Studies major has been reduced to a minor, the Pan-African Studies minor has been reduced to a certificate and the Middle Eastern Studies Certificate is no longer completable. As IUP decreases its number of faculty, the number of classes on non-Western history and culture is becoming more and more limited.
“It was not right to say we have a major when there aren’t enough classes,” Dr. Alan Baumler said of the decision to end the Asian Studies major.
Between 2020 and now, the Asian studies program has lost its Middle Eastern history specialist, its Asian art specialist and its Asian politics specialist. Other non-Western specialists have also been lost including the history department’s Russian history specialist. The options for students looking to study non-Western history, politics and culture are becoming more and more limited.
“It’s disheartening to see professors disappearing, especially because it means professors with specialized knowledge are disappearing. Asia may be one continent, but it’s brimming with diversity,” said Shanya Coshey (sophomore, Asian studies), one of the last Asian Studies majors.
Coshey further said that the loss of teachers feels like a “betrayal” against the program and that it limits their opportunities to learn.
Dr. Francis Allard, who teaches Chinese culture, has noticed a trend of declining interest in Asian studies at IUP and in the United States.
“When I started China was getting really hot, now a days China is becoming less and less appealing to students,” Dr. Allard said.
Dr. Allard pins the loss of interest on China’s violation of human rights and poor relations between the United States and China. China operates as a one-party state that places severe limits on freedom of speech. There is also significant evidence that China detained several million Uyghurs, a Muslim minority in Western China, in concentration camps. China is also working to annex Hong Kong, leading to massive protests in the city-state.
The COVID-19 pandemic also led China to shut down its borders for an extended period of time, preventing students from studying abroad there.
The loss of Asian and non-Western programming at IUP comes at a time when American colleges and universities across the nation are de-emphasizing humanities and instead focusing on STEM fields. It also comes at a time when the United States could benefit from a greater number of China experts. China is already the second largest economy and could become the world’s other superpower next to the United States.
These developments have Princeton professor Rory Truex and China expert writing, “The United States is running critically low on China expertise” in The Washington Post.
When asked why on-Western studies are important, Baumler stated, “One of the things that education is about is knowing about yourself, but also knowing about other people. This is the first time you really get exposed to other cultures and other ideas. Even if you aren’t planning on working in Asia, you need this connection with the rest of the world.”
Baumler also said that students still have the option to study abroad in places like Japan or Taiwan.