Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112
On top of its fieldEast Asian Studies program turns 30, recieves rave reviews
by Karen Saatkamp Gerboth '93
Eugene Swanger, professor of religion, has a way about him. Perhaps it’s his kind, courteous demeanor combined with his good sense of humor. Or maybe it’s his unique bow ties that he dons with pride.
Or maybe it’s his excitement, vision, knowledge and commitment he brings to his field, his students and his classes.
Whatever it is, it helped him start a program 30 years ago that today scholars call “the jewel in Wittenberg’s crown:”
East Asian Studies (EAS).
Founded in 1970 at a time when only three to four percent of liberal arts schools had such a program, Wittenberg’s EAS program now stands as one of the preeminent academic programs in the nation.
Scott and Cheek visited the campus last September at the invitation of East Asian Studies faculty to provide an external assessment of the program, its strengths and what it needs to do in the future.
Both concluded that undergraduates would be hard pressed to find any other small liberal arts school providing such an extended and deep encounter with non-Western civilizations.
“To lose [this program] would be to lose one of the major intellectual assets that defines Wittenberg’s uniqueness in the liberal arts,” they said.
Scott and Cheek also praised the program’s leadership, calling the dedication of those who built the program rare. “We were quite pleased with the broad learning and pedagogical rigor of the syllabi we examine,” the reviewers noted.
“They reflected a faculty abreast of their fields and attentive to how they might convey their knowledge most effectively to undergraduates.
Despite strong demands on their time, their publishing record, taken as a whole, is also enviable.”
Although the number of EAS faculty may fluctuate based on course offerings, there are typically between nine and 11 professors involved with the program at any given time.
They include Swanger, EAS chair, James Huffman, H. Orth Hirt professor of history, Stanley Mickel, professor of languages, Amy Christiansen, assistant professor of languages, Fumiko Togasaki, assistant professor of languages, Bin Yu, associate professor of political science, Stephen Smith, associate professor of sociology, Linda Lewis, associate professor of sociology, Shih-Ming Li Chang, associate professor of theatre and dance, Lawrence Gwinn, professor of economics, and Regina Entorf, reference librarian and associate professor.
“We have colleagues who really combine what Wittenberg is all about: teaching and scholarship,” Huffman said. “They are really active scholars.”
Huffman, for example, works with the Association for Asian Studies and serves as chair of its editorial board. In addition, he edits a column called “Viewpoints” for the Asian Studies Newsletter, and his book, Creating a Public: People and Press in Meiji, Japan, is the definitive work in its field.
Mickel is currently serving as president of AsiaNetwork, a consortium of more than a hundred North American colleges.
The network strives to strengthen the role of Asian Studies within the framework of liberal arts education to help prepare a new generation of undergraduates for a world in which Asian societies will play more and more prominent roles.
Among his more than 25 published works is the Dictionary for Readers of Modern Chinese Prose: Your Guide to 250 Key Grammatical Markers in Chinese.
Swanger has also authored chapters on the Buddhist and Shinto traditions in Great Asian Religions as well as a chapter in the book Kurozumi Shinto.
His expertise in East Asian philosophies and religion led to his appointment as a lecturer in the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. State Department.
There since 1983, Swanger has been a regular contributor to the East Asia, China and Southeast Asia seminars. In addition, he conducts, among others, workshops for managers of U.S. Security assistance programs, U.S.
Air Force flight instructors training Chinese pilots from Taiwan, and for the U.S. Coast Guard struggling with illegal Chinese immigration in the Pacific. He then brings this knowledge to his Wittenberg classes.
Other EAS faculty members have also been active in research and teaching. Christiansen has taught courses in all levels of Japanese language, in Japanese literature and in East Asian cultures.
Togasaki teaches Japanese language and literature, focusing particularly on the intellectual, emotional and aesthetic conflicts between traditional Japanese art and literature and modern industrial civilization.
Yu was a fellow at the East-West Center, Hawaii, and the former president of Chinese Scholars of Political Science and International Studies.
He is currently a faculty associate of the Mershon Center of The Ohio State University, and he recently joined with a dozen other scholars and policy analysts to produce the first international relations quarterly electronic journal covering regional politics in the areas of security, diplomacy and economic interactions in East Asia.
Then there is Smith, who teaches East Asian anthropology. He has published a number of articles and reviews regarding Japanese culture in such magazines and journals as Faces, Contemporary Japan: A Teaching Workbook and Monumenta Nipponica.
Lewis has taught courses in East Asian legal systems, East Asian societies, Korean society, women and the family in Japan and Korea, and an introduction to cultural anthropology.
Since 1989 she has been an adviser for The Korea Coalition (North American Coalition for Human Rights in Korea).
She recently completed a book on the May 1980 Kwangju Uprising, and she was just elected as a member of the Northeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies.
She also serves on a committee for Korean studies and on the board of the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs.
Gwinn teaches East Asian economics as well as courses in international trade and international monetary theory, intermediate macroeconomics and principles of microeconomics and macroeconomics.
He has also been involved with programs sponsored by the Lutheran China Consortium.
Finally, Chang teaches Chinese dance, while Entorf provides general library instruction and serves as a liaison with the Foreign Languages and Literatures department and the East Asian Studies program.
“The diversity of faculty and the breadth of courses keep us competitive,” Swanger said. The intellectual energy and accomplishments of the program’s students also impressed Scott and Cheek.
“Most had been to East Asia; others planned to go; a surprising number were studying both Chinese and Japanese, and all were enthusiastic about the program,” they reported.
Swanger confirmed their findings. “My assessment has been that this program attracts a student with a high level of curiosity — an adventurous type, a risk-taker,” he said.
Swanger explained that these students are willing to immerse themselves in another culture, another region, another language and another lifestyle.
“The program draws students who share an interest in East Asia, a part of the world not many students study. It’s a close-knit group,” Huffman added.
Wittenberg has graduated close to 400 EAS majors, and though not required to study-abroad, one-half to two-thirds of EAS majors do. Most are also employed or attending graduate school upon graduation.
“All kinds of careers stem from this field,” Swanger said. Yuriy R. Fedkiw ’99, for example, coordinates international relations for the Cultural and International Affairs Division of the Oita City Government, Oita City, Japan.
“The major provided me with the theoretical as well as practical training in the form of language studies.
What I gained from EAS was not just an understanding of Japan; its greatest value was the international outlook that it gave me: the ability to survive in a foreign land and to take the good with the bad no matter what continent I am on.”
Kerry Dumbaugh ’74 is a foreign policy analyst in Asian studies for the Congressional Record Service, the research arm of the U.S. Congress, while Tatsuya Tanami ’79 is the deputy director of international affairs for The Nippon Foundation, Japan’s largest foundation.
“My overall experience at Wittenberg made me decide to devote my life afterwards to the promotion of exchanges of different people from different cultural backgrounds in the world, and in particular, the United States and East Asia,” Tanami said.
Charles Finfrock ’01 currently works with the Asian-Pacific training division at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
“This undergraduate program and the diversity of its faculty has given me the experience to go out and get a job in East Asia,” Finfrock said.
Audrey Henninger ’90 is another example. Following graduation, Henninger began teaching at the Concordia Language Villages, first as a staff member and then for two years as “dean” of the Chinese Language Village.
She now works for Walt Disney Motion Pictures.
A 1995 graduate of Harvard Law School, her first full-time job after college was as a legal assistant at a small immigration law firm, a position she said she acquired primarily because she spoke Chinese.
“I was really intrigued by the cultural aspects of the Chinese language I learned from my classes with Dr. Mickel,” she said.
Such demanding language requirements distinguish Wittenberg’s East Asian Studies program from others.
“The root of Wittenberg’s outstanding East Asian Studies program is its base in language instruction and competence as the key to culture understanding.
It is this core commitment to rigorous language instruction well into the third-year level that distinguishes Wittenberg’s EAS program from 90 percent of similar programs in liberal arts colleges,” Scott and Cheek said.
Laura Lewellyn ’99, who is now attending graduate school at the University of Chicago, agreed. “I chose Wittenberg specifically for its strong EAS major,” she said.
“Among the other EAS programs I investigated, Wittenberg’s is unique in that it has such strong faculty in both China and Japan studies; most small schools focus on one or the other.”
Maintaining this high level of excellence, however, requires continual reinvestment. Toward that end, Swanger and his colleagues will be applying for one of the prestigious Luce Foundation Professorships in Asian Studies.
If granted, the professorship will fund another position in Chinese language.
“This second Chinese language faculty position should enable the new person and Stan Mickel both to begin offering courses in Chinese literature to a broad spectrum of the student body in addition to their sharing the load of teaching Chinese language,” Swanger explained.
Eventually, the program would like to expand further to include an additional position in Japanese language, as well as offer courses in East Asian art history and education along with offering more library resources.
“Chinese and Japanese films would be great to use in the courses,” Swanger said.
“We want the students to have a firm grounding in the whole of East Asian society as well as learn the skills necessary to succeed in life,” Huffman added.
“The reality is that Asia’s size and economy will become increasingly important. It will grow more and more relevant I have no doubts,” he said.
“It’s unique for a school the size of Wittenberg to have as rich a program as we do. It’s more dynamic all around.”
Swanger says goobye
Walking into Eugene Swanger’s office on the third floor of the new Hollenbeck Hall is like taking a tour of a distant, mysterious land far beyond Wittenberg’s boundaries.
No computer graces his desk, and his phone has no voice mail. Instead, full-scale reproductions of Japanese art, clay and bronze statues, and boxes of more than 800 Japanese amulets fill his inviting office space.
“I love this subject area, and part of my love is what you can learn about your own culture from another culture,” Swanger said. “It is really a mirror, and it drives you to a deeper understanding of your own culture.”
Swanger brought that drive and appreciation with him when he arrived on campus back in 1967. He also came with a mission: to create the best East Asian Studies (EAS) program he could.
He leaves this spring knowing he succeeded. “Dr. Swanger came to Wittenberg with the foresight and vision to create the East Asian Studies program as we know it today.
Opting to focus on the then little known area of Chinese and Japanese Studies while at the University of Iowa, Dr. Swanger soon distinguished himself as the leading scholar and educator of Chinese and Japanese religions,” wrote the editors in the Spring 1999 East Asian Studies Journal. The editors dedicated the Spring issue to Swanger.
“It’s phenomenal how many people know East Asian Studies and Wittenberg because of Dr. Swanger,” said Charles Finfrock ’01, co-editor of the journal. “He is the sun that East Asian Studies revolves around.”
Although Swanger’s professional accomplishments, including his appointment to The Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. State Department and his receiving the Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching, are impressive, his greatest gift has been his devotion to his students.
“His ability to simultaneously provoke and nurture students is legendary on campus,” wrote the editors.
“Without fail, all students leave his classroom with an appreciation of the wonders of East Asia and the process of learning.”
“I enjoyed talking with Dr. Swanger, and his classes were among my favorite EAS classes,” said Amy Ramsey ’98, who is now teaching English in Japan as part of the Ohio-Saitama sister state program.
“He was very supportive and helped me with my post graduation plans.” “Dr. Swanger was my biggest influence on my choice of East Asian Studies as a major,” said Kerry Dumbaugh ’74, a foreign policy analyst in Asian Studies with the Congressional Record Service. “He more than anyone served as my mentor.”
“I cannot say thanks enough to Dr. Eugene Swanger, who was and still is my mentor,” said Tatsuya Tanami ’79, deputy director of international affairs for The Nippon Foundation in Japan.
“He taught me the major differences between Americans and East Asians with many episodes and stories, and he made me aware that there was still a great gap between the people of these two regions.”
Despite protests from faculty, administrators and students concerning his decision to retire, Swanger leaves with the knowledge and confidence that the East Asian Studies program will continue to thrive.
“Students have an emotional attachment to this program,” Swanger said. “They take pride in it, and I’ll miss them.”
Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112