Dartmouth Needs Korean Studies

by James C. Yu | 11/25/97 6:00am

I had quite a few memorable conversations in Spring 1996 during the annual Admissions Office phone-athon. Sure, I agreed to call some prospectives and encourage them to matriculate at my beloved college. I would tell them about the small class sizes, the renowned Dartmouth school spirit, my exciting freshman fall, and overall why I remained convinced that I made the right choice in coming to this school.

But one embarrassing point lingered in my mind. As many bragging rights as Dartmouth may have -- from the professors to the campus to the dining hall cuisine -- our college remains the only Ivy institution not to have integrated into its undergraduate curriculum a Korean Studies program. In fact, of the top 15 national universities ranked this year by U.S. News & World Report, Dartmouth stands alone in this regard. Clearly, an institution whose mission statement boasts in its dedication to "providing an undergraduate, graduate and professional education of the highest quality," fails to meet its mark when neglecting to provide its students with the course programs for which there is not only a broad-based student interest, but also an unquestionable intellectual necessity.

I recall one conversation in particular during the Admissions phone-athon when a mother asked, "Does Dartmouth offer Korean yet? My daughter was a student at Dartmouth, and I know Dartmouth didn't have Korean then." "Well, Korean is not offered yet," I reluctantly replied.

Disappointment in Dartmouth's lack of course offerings in Korean Studies hasn't been limited to prospective matriculants or their parents. There are freshmen arriving in Hanover with the notion that Korean 1, 2, and 3 exist. Misleading literature published by the Admissions Office lists Korean as a language study offered by the College.

Last summer, word spread like wildfire that Dartmouth would approve a Korean LSA to Seoul; more than a handful of upperclassmen actually changed their D Plans with the hopes of taking advantage of the rumored opportunity next year, only to discover in September that the proposal never made it through the wheels of Dartmouth bureaucracy.

A modest Korean Studies proposal is again on the table awaiting approval this winter by the Humanities Divisional Council, one of several committees involved in implementing curricular additions of such magnitude. As the Administration and Faculty contemplate whether or not this particular proposal best suits the needs of Dartmouth College, I would like to make several points as to why Korean Studies, even in its most rudimentary form, is a necessary component of a sound liberal arts curriculum at our school.

(1) Korea is an integral part of the East Asian world. Korea is a nation with a unique history spanning 5,000 years, and its arts and culture are as distinct from China and Japan as is British culture from France and Italy. The Korean language, bearing a closer relation to Finnish than to Chinese, bears a rich literary tradition more than 2,000 years old. It is spoken by more than 75 million people in the world today and by more than 800,000 people in the United States alone.

Dartmouth currently offers no language or literature instruction in Korean, though introductory and advanced courses exist in Chinese and Japanese. And only the Government and History departments offer Korea-specific courses. Government Professor David C. Kang is the only Korea specialist at the College.

Dartmouth's Asian Studies Program will never be complete without the full inclusion of Korean Studies into its curriculum. This begins, in its simplest form, with the introduction of Korean language instruction.

(2) There is more interest in the Korean peninsula today than ever before. The Korean peninsula continues to be the area of keen political, economic, and social interest in the international community. Nowhere is the Cold War more alive and visible today than in the Korean peninsula, home to the most heavily armed border in the world. To the north remains one of the last remaining stalwarts of Stalinism, mischievous and unpredictable in the eyes of the world.

To the south lies a key political and economic ally of the United States -- a burgeoning democracy with an internationally competitive economy. The world's 11th-largest economy is the United States' seventh-largest trading partner, with trade amounting to more than $25 billion a year. Stephen W. Bosworth '61, Chairman of Dartmouth's Board of Trustees, was recently appointed and confirmed to the U.S. Ambassadorship to South Korea, much to the excitement of the Dartmouth Community.

With increasing attention on the Korean peninsula, there arises an increasing demand to study its history, language and culture. Dartmouth's curriculum in its present form is incapable of satisfying this demand.

(3) Korean-Americans are visible members of American society. Today, close to a million Americans trace their heritage to the Korean peninsula. And more than 250 Koreans and Korean-Americans call Dartmouth home, constituting the largest ethnic minority community at the College.

An understanding of fellow Americans begins, in part, with an understanding of respective histories and cultures. Dartmouth's curriculum cannot fully satisfy this necessity without Korean Studies.

(4) Dartmouth students desire to take Korean Studies courses. Demonstrating a strong student interest in the Korean peninsula, professor Kang's three Korea-related government courses have been consistently over-enrolled in the two years they have been offered. Japan specialist Professor Steven J. Ericson will be introducing a course entitled History of the Korean Peninsula next year, due, in part, to popular student demand. And the Korean-American Students Association, in an effort to partially satisfy the broad student interest in Korean language, has offered student-taught Korean language classes to all interested members of the Dartmouth Community since 1989. This term, KASA offered weekly classes in introductory and intermediate Korean, drawing a steady group of 25 enthusiastic students -- many of whom were neither Korean nor KASA members.

I understand that implementing a Korean Studies program at Dartmouth, or any program for that matter, is not a simple administrative task. However, there is also a considerable urgency to this particular program's implementation. Dartmouth's curriculum, as it stands, fails to embrace the liberal arts ideal of the College without Korean Studies. A purveyor of higher learning should not be able to ignore the importance of a history so long and so meaningful, a language so unique and so important, a culture so distinct and so rich, a program so intellectually compelling and so broadly desired.

I urge the Administration and the Faculty to follow the examples of peer Ivy institutions and adopt some integrated form of Korean Studies, as preliminary as it may be, into the Dartmouth curriculum in a timely fashion. I can attest to the fact that there are many students eagerly awaiting the results of the next Humanities Divisional Council vote.