The Wang Center, which recently celebrated its ten-year anniversary in October, has been gaining attention due to a circulating anonymous petition that addresses “the fate” of the Asian and Asian American programs and the “dissolved directorship” of Dr. Sunita S. Mukhi at the center.
The petition, which is addressed to Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley, has so far received 1,472 supporters out of the 1,500 goal since it was started on Feb. 26, 2013 through the website change.org.
The unknown user, who goes by the name “savethewang center,” has expressed displeasure with the university’s decision to “defund the office of Asian and Asian American programs, reduce the number of… programs and downgrade the Wang Center to an ordinary convention center.”
The petition goes on to say that they are also “disturbed” with the idea of dissolving the directorship of Mukhi and that it is “a case of racial and age discrimination.”
These statements aren’t completely factual, though, and the university has posted a separate message in response to the petition on the Wang Center website to clarify.
“I think as an institution we value everyone’s right to speak out and say what they want to say,” Dr. Tonjanita L. Johnson, Chief Deputy to the President at Stony Brook, said. “So I think the best we can do is try to clarify what we are doing here at the university as it relates to programming.”
According to Dr. Johnson, Nancy Squires, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and Diana Hannan, the Director of Conferences and Special Events for Stony Brook, the university is not defunding, reducing or downgrading the Wang Center and its Asian and Asian American programs in any way.
“No money was taken away,” Hannan said. “The funding is the same.”
In fact, they are reassuring that the opposite is true by describing “two major philanthropic donations,” as described by the university’s message on the Wang Center website, that have just been received by the university.
The first donation is the “Dr. Gujavarty Family Seminar Fund in India Studies,” which will annually fund a seminar “hosted by the Center on developing Asian Indian leaders.”
The second donation is in the form of a multimillion-dollar gift, which is to be used to create the “Bishembar Nath and Sheela Mattoo Professorship in India Studies.”
The goal of these donations is to strengthen and expand programs in India studies, one of the departments of the Asian and Asian American Studies Program.
“I think those donations again speak to the continued commitment of Asian and Asian American programming and our commitment to cultural activities,” Dr. Johnson said. “I just want people to understand that we are in no way diminishing our commitment to our Asian and Asian American community on this campus. If anything we are expanding that commitment as we move forward.”
To ensure that the student and community members opinions about programs will be heard and represented by the university, officials are instituting an advisory council.
“One of the other changes is that we have started an advisory council,” Hannan said. “That council will have some key university leadership, some community members and some students. We are excited about that because we feel that we are going to get good feedback.”
While the programs at the Wang Center are expanding, so is the way they are being managed. In addition to the advisory council, the director of programming position, which Dr. Muhki currently holds, is being transformed into an associated director position with an assistant and grad student unit.
Stony Brook officials are looking to fill the newly created associated director job once they get “approval on the position,” according to Hannan, who hopes “within the next few months,” a full-time person will be chosen.
“We do anticipate a national search,” Dr. Johnson said. “We are really excited about the prospect of having someone with considerable experience and who is ready to take on a full time position in the Wang Center for programming.”
The director position was originally created alongside the Wang Center ten years ago. Dr. Mukhi, who has held the position all ten years, started off as a full time director, but was later asked by the university to split her efforts 50/50 between being an educator and the center’s director.
“To be honest though I was only 50/50 on paper,” Dr. Mukhi said. “I think I gave 150 percent of myself to the Wang Center and even a 100 percent to teaching.”
Mukhi says she can “absolutely understand that the job does require somebody to give a 100 percent of his or her time, ” but was “perplexed” because she thought that she was already doing that.
Mukhi will now be a full-time educator, but said that her time as director of the Wang Center has been “fabulous.”
The Wang Center’s future and success will depend on whom the new associate director will be, Mukhi said. But Dr. Johnson and Hannan assure that the programs will only continue to grow and flourish.
So as Mukhi leaves her position in the hands of someone else, she simply says, “I am just hoping that the Asian and Asian American structure stay strong at the Wang Center. The Wang Center is a beautiful facility and deserves to be used.”