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Alumna funds new Chinese program

Beginning in Fall 2012, Mills College will be adding Mandarin to its course offerings. According to Vice Provost and History Professor Andrew Workman, the new language course will be funded by a donation from a Mills alumna.

“We’re beginning the process of hiring an instructor for Chinese language and literature for next year,” Workman said. “It’s actually a three-year appointment (position) and it’s funded by Patsy Peng, who is a graduate of Mills.”

According to the Office of Institutional Advancement, Peng, who graduated in 1951 and earned her master’s degree in 1953, donated a total of $300,000 this summer to fund the addition of Mandarin to the College’s language choices.

“We were lucky enough…to have a donor who would come in and give us the money to hire someone new,” Workman said.

Although the gift has enabled the College to expand its language course offerings for next fall, Workman said the College has been examining the possibility for several years.

“Last year, we had a faculty committee looking at languages, and it came with the recommendation that we needed more,” Workman said. “There’s been some concern that we really need to expand our languages, and so (the committee) really looked intensively at how best to go about that. So that happened (last year), but we’ve really been thinking about this for years and years.”

Currently, the College only offers courses in Spanish and French, but Workman noted the importance of having other languages offered as well — specifically Mandarin and Arabic.

“If you think about Chinese, there’s enormous interest,” Workman said. “There’s huge interest (from) people in business and education and public policy. All of these fields have tremendous interest in having people who can read and speak Chinese.”

Workman explained that the decision to offer Mandarin instead of Cantonese was mainly for practical reasons.

“It’s (Mandarin) the dominant language of business and international commerce,” Workman said.

A committee is currently being put together to aid in the hiring process for the Chinese language and literature position. According to Workman, the committee will consist of Mark Henderson, Assistant Professor of Public Policy; Carlota Caulfield, Program Head and Professor of Spanish and Spanish American Studies; and Christie Chung, Assistant Professor of Psychology. Workman also said that a fourth person will be added to the committee, but at the time of publication, the last person had not yet been confirmed.

“We’ll begin reviewing applications probably around the beginning of the year,” Workman said. “We should have someone hired and ready in the spring and they’ll come in in the fall.”

According to Workman, once the hiring committee has narrowed down the pool of applicants to about three to five, the candidates will be brought to campus to talk about their research and teach a class.

“We want someone who has a Ph. D. and is trained not just in the language and teaching of the language, but also literature and the cultural aspects of it,” Workman said. “One of the things we’ll have them do is actually teach a class. The idea is to really get some real student interaction and reaction to them, and then that really figures very heavily in the process.”

While the position for the Chinese language and literature program is currently scheduled to exist for three years, Workman hopes to make it a full-time, permanent position.

“Our goal is to make this, eventually, a full-time tenure-track job,” Workman said. He added that, if there was enough student interest in the program, Mills would “hire a second person as well. We want to have at least two people in the language to make it work.”

Workman explained that part of the reason Arabic is no longer offered at the College is because the faculty member teaching it was only part-time and there wasn’t enough student interest in it as an upper division language course.

“We could never justify (offering Arabic) three and four because we just didn’t have enough students doing it,” Workman said.

Workman said that the College will take a different approach with the Mandarin program.

“What we decided with this is that if we were going to go for the Chinese language, we were going to make sure it was a full-time person and we had them for at least three years,” Workman said. “Once you do that, and you start offering the language, you build a critical mass of students taking the upper division courses.”

In addition to adding a faculty member for Chinese language and literature, the College is also in the process of hiring professors in several other departments.

“We are planning to hire seven new tenure-track faculty members for Fall 2012,” said Provost and Dean of Faculty Sandra Greer in an e-mail.

According to Greer, the professors being hired will be in the Art History, Studio Art, Biology, French, Education and Business Departments.

Workman acknowledged that some people may be concerned about hiring new faculty members because of the current financial problems facing the College, but he explained that the new hires will be replacing current faculty members who are retiring.

“Almost all of these (positions) are replacements, and we have retirements, so we’re actually rejuvenating the faculty in that way,” Workman said. “So even though there’s some financial constraints, we’re going ahead with all the searches.”