[KS] korean studies at the university of california in jeopardy

Ruediger Frank ruediger.frank at univie.ac.at
Thu Apr 24 10:00:26 EDT 2008

Dear all,

no matter what the merits of a specific program, I guess we all agree in our unhappiness about the closing down of Korean Studies at Berkeley, or at any other university. 

I'd like, however, to highlight what Dr. Peterson has mentioned in his statement - the fact that KS stands alone once the going gets tough, and inevitably suffers most if compared to Chinese or Japanese Studies (CS or JS). In Europe, we have (had) quite similar problems, which prompted the Korea Foundation to ask Jay Lewis of Oxford (or was it the other way round?) to organize a workshop on the future of Korean Studies on our continent. A number of scholars including myself have participated in this workshop, tried to formulate ideas from their various perspectives, and then presented the results at the 2007 biannual conference of the Association for Korean Studies in Europe (AKSE) in Dourdan/Paris. These were the single contributions:

1) 'Proposals to Secure a Critical Mass of Professorial Positions in Korean Studies at Strategic Universities in Europe' 
by Marion Eggert, Ruhr-Unversität, Bochum, Germany 
2) '(The?) Future for Korean Studies: Finding ways to Cooperate with East Asian Studies and Social Sciences and Avoid Marginalization or How to Organize Interdisciplinarity' 
by Ruediger Frank, University of Vienna 
3) 'Proposals for Fostering Future Generations of Korean Studies Scholars: The Role of the Korea Foundation Fellowship Programs' 
by Carl J. Saxer, Copenhagen Business School 
4) 'Proposals to Use Libraries and Museums to the Full to Support and Disseminate Korean Studies Throughout Europe' 
by Beth McKillop, Keeper, Asian Department Victoria and Albert Museum, London 

Jay has ever since, as far as I understand, communicated the results at a number of occasions. The full text of the papers presented at the 2006 meeting can be found here (http://www.akse.uni-kiel.de/upload_files/2006_06_Oxford%20Papers%20on%20KS%20Future.pdf). If that link doesn't work, send me a personal message (ruediger.frank at univie.ac.at) and I forward the file to you. I also hope Jay reads this and adds his own comments as well as an updated version of our discussions on the matter.

I dealt with the issue of cooperation. My own experience at Humboldt-University, where the flourishing program in Korean Studies - the only one in Germany with two professorships and a strong focus on contemporary affairs - was closed for a number of reasons that still freak me out, has taught me that support from CS and JS is crucial for the survival of KS. The much more positive experience now in Vienna where JS and CS are among my closest partners demonstrates that even the success of KS can be strongly enhanced with support by CS and JS. On a side note, I can also tell you that selfish, uncooperative and unprofessional behavior by KS will of course not be of much help in such a relationship. 

I don't want to go on for too long; what I wanted to say in support of and reaction to Dr. Peterson's remarks is that hoping for selfless help by CS and JS in case of a threatened KS program or position might be unrealistic under the usual circumstances. In other words, if the question is "us or them", they will of course say "them" and sacrifice KS in order to save themselves. This is not nice, but quite understandable and, frankly, hard to criticize. So what is the solution? Well, it's easy: make our problem theirs. In other words, create structures in which KS are an integral part of CS and JS, and vice versa. East Asian Studies are harder to attack than Korean Studies. Similar strategies can be followed with regard to social sciences or other disciplines. Such a strategy has its  downside and risks, and I discuss some of them in my paper. However, it should at least be considered if we want to avoid the continuation of the same sad procedure as at Humboldt, Berkeley and many other places.

My best wishes,


Prof. Dr. Rudiger Frank
Chair of East Asian Economy and Society
University of Vienna
East Asian Institute
Spitalgasse 2 Hof 2
1090 Vienna
- Austria -

phone: +43-1-4277 43871
fax:   +43-1-4277 43849
web:   www.koreanstudies.de/frank
email: ruediger.frank at univie.ac.at

on Donnerstag, 24. April 2008 at 07:22 you wrote:


My response is much like Mike's.  Berkeley has taken Korean money for years and made nothing but excuses about not being able to hire a worthy professor of Korean Studies in any field.  A Korean "Center" -- called a center so it qualified for Korean money -- without a professor and without a major!  It has been one of the worst situations in our field.  And in the same time frame, somehow, UCLA, in the same state system, has blossomed.  That speaks volumes about Berkeley's disingenuousness.

But the issue runs deeper than the shoddy treatment Korean Studies has been given at Berkeley.  What happens there -- Korea gets the cuts when the times get hard -- is all too typical of many other universities.  "Heavens!, we can't cut our growing Chinese program."  "Good golly, miss Molly, we can't cut our Japanese program."  "Our only choice is to cut the Korean program -- after all, it's the smallest of the three and is struggling, dontya know." [or in Berkeley's case -- cut Chinese by 58%, Japanese by 40%, but Korean by 100% -- that's only fair!]

 As a field, we've made tremendous progress in recent years, but when the times get tough, Korean Studies, like Korea itself, is all together too often victimized by its neighbors.  Count the votes.  In any department, the Koreanists are out-numbered.  So, what can you expect.

So, go ahead, blame Arnold Schwarzenegger.  But the problem runs much deeper than one governor and one economic downturn.  Look back at the nameless deans, department chairs, and others who have made the anti-Korean decisions at Berkeley for years.  And as the economy worsens, look for similar hits at other campuses.

Wow!  That came out dark, didn't it?!  

best regards to you all,

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