Jan. 26, 2000

David Der-Wei Wang Will Head Core Program In Asian Studies

By Aimery Dunlap-Smith

David Der-Wei Wang

Professor David Der-Wei Wang of the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department is the new chair of the University Committee on Asia and the Middle East, which oversees the Asian and Middle Eastern studies components of Columbia's undergraduate Core Curriculum, the department announced last month. Wang replaced Irene Tilenius Bloom, professor in Barnard's Asian and Middle East Cultures Department, who steps down after a decade as Committee chair.

"His willingness to take on the responsibilities that Irene has carried and is now laying down," said former provost and John Mitchell Mason Professor Emeritus William Theodore de Bary of Wang in an address at the Dec. 15 investiture ceremony at the Heyman Center for the Humanities, "is testimony to the magnitude of David's own abilities and the extreme generosity of his own willingness to serve the University, as well as his courage in responding to a great challenge."

Wang draws on a lode of experience for his new post not only as a teacher but also as an administrator. In the summer of 1997 he became head of the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department, and last July was named director of the Chiang Ching-Kuo Center for Chinese Studies at Columbia. The latter is the only center in this country supported by the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation, the most important sponsor of Chinese scholarship in the U.S. He has served, moreover, on at least 20 University committees in his 10 years at Columbia.

"What I'm looking forward to doing as head of the Committee is first to create an even stronger and more coherent program to attract more students to the study of Asian and Middle Eastern cultures," Wang said, "and then to better coordinate our program-which, by the way, is the oldest major cultures program at Columbia and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year-with the other major cultures programs offered here."

Wang added that a new and different budget is important to the accomplishment of these goals. It will also be one of his aims as Committee chair, therefore, to create an independent budget structure for the Asian and Middle Eastern program. Such a structure, he explained, will allow the program the freedom necessary to implement more readily the changes he envisions for it.

At the Heyman Center ceremony, de Bary called the outgoing chair a "wonderful person," remarking that "No doubt the first thing David [Wang] will say is something about Irene Bloom being a hard act to follow." Indeed she is. During Bloom's tenure at the Committee, enrollment in Asian humanities and Asian civilizations classes rose significantly; interdisciplinary and broadly cross-cultural courses, such as "Human Rights and Social Justice in Comparative Perspective: India and China," were initiated; a day-and-a-half long consultation on teaching introductory Asian studies was convened on Morningside Heights between Harvard and Columbia scholars, and the celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the Asian humanities and the subsequent Asian civilizations programs was organized.

She is also the first recipient of a named chair in the Core Curriculum. In 1993, after four years at the head of the University Committee on Asia and the Middle East, Bloom became the de Bary and Class of 1941 Collegiate Professor in Asian Humanities. This chair as well as the chair of the University Committee she has turned over to Wang her successor.

Bloom, who earned her doctorate in East Asian Studies from Columbia in 1976 and began teaching at Barnard in 1984, is now in Cambridge, Mass., teaching in the department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Harvard. She returns to her students on Morningside Heights in the fall, however, and with a new title. Bloom's scholarship and service have been recognized with an Ann Whitney Olin Professorship, one of Barnard College's highest academic honors.