WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Whitman College is one of 11 liberal arts colleges nationally to receive grant funding from the Henry Luce Foundation to hire a junior professor in Asian Studies.

Established earlier this year, the Luce Fund for Asian Studies is a $12 million, four-year initiative to strengthen the study of Asia at the undergraduate level of American higher education. The fund supports the creation of permanent new junior faculty positions at selective liberal arts colleges in the U.S., both to foster the study of Asia and to reinforce the study of liberal arts in general.

Over the life of the program, grants will be made for 35 or more new positions focused on teaching about the regions of east and southeast Asia.

The Luce Foundation, based in New York, N.Y., invited 20 schools to submit funding proposals for the first year of this new initiative. In addition to Whitman, schools in the western United States awarded funding this year are Reed College in Portland, Ore., and Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo. Other recipients from around the country include Oberlin College, Smith College, and College of the Holy Cross.

Each grant supports salary and benefits for a new professor for a four-year period. Grants also include a program fund of $10,000 per year for Asia-related activities such as visiting lectureships, student internships, library acquisitions and faculty exchange. Each school accepting grant funds is required to continue support for the new position after Luce Foundation funding expires.

Whitman hopes to fill its Luce Junior Professor of Asian Studies position in time for the 2000-2001 academic year, after conducting a nationwide search for candidates, according to dean of faculty Patrick Keef.

"This new position at Whitman will be filled by a specialist in Asian art history," Keef said. "It will add important substance to our art history major while at the same time lending greater stability and continuity to our Asian Studies program in general."

With the Luce position, the number of tenured or tenure-track faculty members teaching in Whitman's Asian Studies program will rise from six to seven. In addition to teaching classes focused specifically on Asian art history, the new Luce professor will take primary responsibility for the introductory and the senior seminar classes in Asian Studies.

The $10,000 annual activity fund that accompanies the Luce faculty position will be used in part, Keef said, to hire assistants to help prepare Whitman's extensive Davis Asian Art Collection for more effective exhibition and study purposes. The collection includes several hundred Oriental screens, scrolls, sculptures, figures and vessels.

"We are very excited about this new source of assistance from the Luce Foundation, and what it can do for the ongoing evolution of our Asian Studies program," Keef said. "We think our emphasis on Asian Studies has continued to gain in strength in recent years, and we firmly believe this trend will continue with the support of the Luce Foundation."

Faculty members currently teaching in Whitman's Asian Studies program include Akira Ron Takemoto, Japanese language & literature, and Shu-chu Wei-Peng, Chinese language & literature. Other faculty with special academic interests in Asia are Shampa Biswas, who joins the politics department this fall; David Deal, history; Charles McKhann, anthropology; and Jonathan Walters, religion. A visiting assistant professor in history, Marianne Kamp, specializes in Islam and Central Asia.

Whitman offered its first class on Asia -- a history course on the peoples of the Pacific Ocean -- in 1926. As a modern program, Asian Studies at Whitman began taking shape in 1969 when David Deal, a specialist in Chinese history, joined the faculty as its first Asia-centered professor. While helping nurture the Asian Studies program over the next three decades, Deal has also been instrumental in launching and then administering the Whitman-In-China program. Since 1982, Whitman has sent more than 90 recent graduates to teach English at Chinese universities for one year. In return, two Chinese teachers come to Whitman each year to sharpen their English language skills.

Whitman also plays a central role in the Associated Kyoto Program (AKP), a consortium of 15 liberal arts colleges from around the U.S. About 50 students nationwide are selected each year for two semesters of intensive study at Japan's Doshisha University. Nearly 70 Whitman students have studied in the Kyoto program since the fall of 1980, and the consortium is presently headquartered on the Whitman campus. Ron Takemoto, a Whitman assistant professor and Buddhist priest, currently serves as chairman of the AKP board of directors. Michael Gates, a 1995 Whitman graduate who studied in the AKP program during the 1993-94 academic year, is the AKP program administrator.

Since the mid-1980s, Whitman graduates have been regular participants in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program, which is operated by the Japanese Education Ministry and places qualified applicants as English teachers in Japanese junior high and high schools. More than 30 Whitman graduates have taught in the JET program.

The scope of Whitman's Asian Studies program broadened when Jonathan Walters, a noted authority on Sri Lanka, joined the faculty in 1992. Whitman has since joined a consortium of six liberal arts colleges that sponsors the Intercollegiate Sri Lanka Education (ISLE) program. In recent years, the ISLE program has sent three Whitman students to Sri Lanka to study its culture, politics, religion and art. Six more Whitman students will study on the island nation during the 1999 fall semester.

Walters spent two months this summer in Sri Lanka, where he continued his own studies, assisted a Whitman student on a summer research project, and renewed his ties to a Sri Lankan environmental protest movement.

The late Henry R. Luce, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time, Inc., established the Luce Foundation in 1936. With assets now totaling about $900 million, the foundation and its work reflect the interests of four generations of the Luce family. Those interests include interdisciplinary exploration in higher education, increased understanding between Asia and America, the study of religion and theology, and scholarship in American art. The seeds of those interests were sown by Henry W. and Elizabeth R. Luce, who were educational missionaries to China, where they arrived in 1897. Their four children were all born in China, the eldest being Henry R. Luce.


Dave Holden, Whitman News Service, (509) 527-5902
Email: holden@whitman.edu