The Plight of Foreign Teachers at National Universities
Translation and Commentary
by Steve McCarty

Original print publication: On CUE, 1 (2), 14-15 (1993).


The Plight of Foreign Teachers at National Universities
Translation and Commentary by Steve McCarty

An article entitled "National Universities not Internationalizing" (国際化進まぬ 国立大学 Kokusaika susumanu kokuritsu daigaku) was seen by millions of readers on May 12, 1993 in the "Bunka" (文化)column of the vernacular daily Asahi Shimbun(朝日新聞). The translation below consists of direct quotations and paraphrase of the main points. Commentary on the situation, as it pertains to the role of foreign faculty in Japanese education generally, is identified as such.

"Ten years have transpired since public universities embarked on the road to open regular faculty positions of Kyoju(教授), Jokyoju (助教授)and Koshi (講師)to foreigners. Regular faculty(教員 Kyoin) have increased to 201, but the road to internationalization remains distant," according to staff writer Yoichi Kamimaru. The accompanying graph shows that Gaikokujin Kyoshi (外国人教師), casually hired foreign instructors, often on a one-year contract basis, have also increased from 311 to 364 in that time.

Comment: Regular foreign faculty are called Gaikokujin Kyoin, so there is no escaping categorical treatment based on nationality, but the non-classroom roles of an educator are denied by the title kyoshi or teacher even while professorial credentials are demanded.

The article goes on to say that nine universities such as Todai and Kyushu U. have all 201 of the regular foreign faculty: 30 Kyoju, 115 Jokyoju and 56 Koshi. Among these are 55 Americans, 35 Chinese and 34 Koreans  [including those born in Japan]. Yet the other 45 out of 54 national universities and research institutes have none.

"From inside as well as outside Japan the criticism has been raised that scholarship has always been something universal transcending national borders."

Comment: If this recognition were to imbue the mission of Japanese universities, it might not be necessary, as the title of the article implies, to equate foreign faculty with internationalization.

Though the above consideration inspired the 1982 law, Kamimaru writes, inequality remains, particularly with regard to the terms of employment. At only a few national universities is the tenure track open to foreigners, which has provoked strong criticism.

Comment: A contract is not to be welcomed in this country, as it provides not for job security but for the next turn of the revolving door.

Out of about 37,000 national university faculty, the above-mentioned 201 represent a mere 0.5%. By comparison, at private universities almost 3% of 1,466 regular faculty members are foreigners. "At Jochi Daigaku (Sophia U.) which has cosmopolitanism(国際性 kokusaisei) as its distinctive feature, 118 out of 533 regular faculty are foreigners."

At national universities foreigners enter a system where the number of slots is limited by law. The question has always been whether posts would be passed to foreigners at Japanese universities where the sense of factional affiliation and cultivating connections based on common academic origins (学閥や人脈 gakubatsu ya jimmyaku) is strong. Prof. Kazuyuki Kitamura is quoted as saying, "unless the predisposition to hire mostly their own graduates is broken down, letting in a breeze from outside, universities will not internationalize."

Comment: The next subheading uses non-standard Japanese, perhaps ironically, in emphasizing "Even now, 'hired gun' treatment." The word suketto is a bit outdated but is sometimes applied to foreign pro baseball players. The Chinese character for assistance is normally followed by hiragana(助っと), but here the final syllable is changed back into the character for person(助っ人), as is standard for example in the word shiroto(素人)or amateur.

Further comment: Part-time instructors (非常勤講師 Hijokin Koshi) including Japanese nationals are also a kind of suketto, hired to teach courses the regular faculty cannot cover. There is no alternative but to hire outside people of lower status to play a limited role, hence the irony of elevating the hiragana to a person.

Mombusho decides the quota for each national university, Kamimaru continues. Among the temporary hires are not a few Japan veterans. Their experience and achievements are valued, so their contracts are extended. But centering around these veterans, Mombusho sent shock waves through national universities by requesting concrete hiring plans, that is, to specify when contracts terminate.

Foreign instructors hearing of this asked, "Why can't we be seen as anything but gaijin (ガイジン)? Isn't internationalization to see people as individual human beings?" Domestic sources added that it could have international repercussions to cut foreign intellectuals familiar with Japan in order to save on personnel costs."

Regarding this a Mombusho spokesman said, "With budgets limited, if the same educational outcome results, we want them to hire young people" who cost less. It is not a directive to terminate contracts, he explained, but rather to scrutinize automatic extensions.

The reporter finally asks whether or not the suketto role of foreign teachers unchanged since the Meiji Period is suitable to the present age.

Concluding comment: All public universities (国交立大学 kokkoritsu daigaku) were enabled by the 1982 law to grant tenure to foreign faculty, but the option has been implemented at only nine top national universities. Foreign educators need to articulate the case, preferably in Japanese, that experience does result in better education as well as professional and community level involvement. Nevertheless, the article reviewed here could be important as a sort of gaiatsu (外圧) embarrassing the government into doing the right thing or discontinuing the wrong thing.

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バイリンガリズムと日本学

Updated on 3 December 2001

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