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Hesitancy at Purchase Creates Uncertainty for the Asian Studies Department

By Arlenis Marmolejos

Renqiu Yu, professor and chair of the Asian Studies department, is retiring this spring. The Purchase administration has not committed to replacing him, leaving the fate of the program at large (Photo via the Purchase College website)

Purchase College is losing its only historian focusing on Asian studies but has not committed to replacing him.

Renqiu Yu, the chair of the Asian studies department and only full-time Asian studies professor, declined to comment on the administration’s decision regarding his replacement upon his retirement this spring.

His colleague within the department and across the college, however, expressed their concerns.

“We are hoping that the administration will reconsider the importance of Asian studies and indeed let us hire somebody,” said Lisa Keller, a professor of history. “Right now, they said we can hire a temporary person, an adjunct, but we haven’t gotten authorization to replace Professor Yu full-time.”

“It is more important than ever to have a great diversity of subjects and to represent the entire world in our teaching. If we do not get a permanent professor for Asian studies, how are we going to represent all the different aspects of history and culture?” Keller added.

Earnest Lamb, the provost and vice president for academic affairs, expressed his appreciation for Yu and his work as a trailblazer in the School of Humanities—but would not commit to his replacement.

“In general, I am supportive of globalizing the curriculum at Purchase College and acknowledge the contributions Dr. Renqiu Yu has made in that effort—especially with creating the Asian Studies program,” Lamb said, adding, “No decisions have been made at this time.”

Laura Chmielewski, an associate professor of history, concentrating on trans-Atlantic, women’s, and urban history, lauded Yu as a “respected scholar, adored teacher, and colleague.”

“His brilliance as a teacher and endless kindness as an advisor have shaped the experience of a generation of Purchase students,” she said.

Yu's 1992 book "To Save China, To

Save Ourselves" (Photo via Amazon)

“Calls and demands of students at Purchase echo those in history when needing to cover a wide part of the world,” said Jessica Levy, an assistant professor of history, who specializes in modern United States and African-American history

Levy noted that the COVID-19 pandemic and decreased funding from the state have forced Purchase to become more tuition-dependent. The situation, she said, increases the likelihood that finances “may go to other areas that the school sees for areas of growth.”

Purchase College President, Dr. Milagros Peña, also declined to “comment on particular positions” like Yu’s replacement, but expressed how having diverse courses, events, and opportunities is “core to an educational experience that serves to shape our conception of the world and brings greater knowledge about the communities we engage.”

Levy and her colleagues in the history department have thought about how to diversify and decolonize the curriculum by having courses reflect the desires of students. Although it “may seem small by being one faculty member, it’s covering a whole important area of the world,” Levy said.

A freshman acting major and member of the Humans of Asian and Polynesian Ancestry (HAPA) club, Vivian Lee, touched on how important raising awareness of diversity is within the teachings of Asian studies.

“It helps create understanding for the few Asian people on campus that yearn to learn and connect with their own culture,” Lee said. “It is disheartening to feel as if our school doesn’t see us.”

As an untenured faculty member, Levy recognizes how she may be in a “potentially vulnerable” position in commenting on the administration’s wait in coming to a decision. “It is ultimately the administration that controls whether there is a hire, and so there might be some hesitancy on stepping on toes,” Levy said.

“If we [the faculty] are not speaking about these issues, fighting for what we think are important like positions to have and areas to cover, and not defending humanities and history to students and administration—then nobody else is,” Levy said.



As a former student and advisee of Ren Yu this is incredibly disheartening to hear. He and Kalin Wang shaped my 4 years at Purchase College and catapulted me into a Masters program at The University of Pennsylvania. The Asian Studies program is a vital one to the history major at Purchase College. I truly hope they will attempt to fill his shoes and continue the program. Leaving a gap like this in the history program is denying students an invaluable look at a part of the world so few people understand and largely ignore.

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