Letter from the chair, June 2021

Marvin Marcus

I’d like to share some thoughts and observations as I prepare to step down from my role as departmental chair of EALC. Mine has been a relatively short stint in this position — only two years. But the period has been marked, as you’re all aware, by unusual difficulties and challenges. We are only now in the process of emerging from the pandemic-related disruptions and displacements and planning to return to what we hope will be a “normalized” campus routine as of the fall semester. Letty Chen will assume the EALC chairship as of July 1, and I wish her well as she leads the department toward what I’m confident will be a promising and bright future.

In a broader perspective, my thirty-six years on the Washington University faculty have spanned an extraordinary period of growth and development under the chancellorships of Bill Danforth, Mark Wrighton, and now Andrew Martin. And this period has witnessed the study of East Asia under three departmental homes — initially the Department of Chinese and Japanese, then Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures (ANELL), and finally East Asian Languages and Cultures (EALC). Our curricula have come to reflect the ever-shifting political and economic conditions in East Asia and an equally dramatic shift in academic programs and priorities.

The university’s new leadership team is currently engaged in comprehensive and long-term strategic planning that will set the course for our educational and research priorities well into the future. These will include a focus on globalization and border-crossing, advanced data and media analytics, and a principled approach to the study of diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

These are important and timely concerns, to be sure. But I should underscore as well the long-standing humanist mission of EALC — the study of our diverse textual materials in ways that query and ponder the human condition and explore the endlessly rich and resilient variety of human experience. My colleagues and I focus on East Asian expressions of this experience, but we are equally in dialogue with colleagues whose regional specialization may be elsewhere but whose fundamental questions and concerns we share — and are eager to discuss and debate.

This unprecedented academic year ends on a bittersweet note, as we bid farewell to colleagues who will be leaving us — Fred Wu, on the occasion of his retirement following twenty-six years on our faculty; Nathan Vedal and Kanako Yao, who will be moving to positions at other institutions; and Yan Yuqian, who will be returning home. And in turn we will be welcoming a large cohort of new faculty in each of our sections. In short, EALC will have a decidedly new look as of the fall!

With an eye to the future, I am confident that EALC will grow and prosper under Letty Chen’s leadership. And here I wish to acknowledge my own predecessor, Rebecca Copeland, for having so ably fostered the department’s growth during her six-year tenure as chair. We all owe Rebecca a continuing debt of gratitude.

Although I will shortly be going on academic leave, I fully intend to contribute in any way I can to ensure that EALC will remain at the center of the study of East Asia at WashU as we expand and update our curricular offerings, while retaining our commitment to humanist study and to the understanding and appreciation of cultural heritages and enduring values.

In conclusion, I wish to express my sincere thanks and best wishes to my faculty colleagues for their dedication and collegiality, and to our students for reminding us, in many ways, how fortunate we are to do what we do for a living. And finally, a special word of thanks to Krystel Mowery, our peerless administrative coordinator, for her tireless efforts on behalf of us all — faculty and students alike.