On the last day of classes Thursday, a group of 10 gathered in the lobby of Marie Mount Hall, preparing to show their collective support for Mimi Khúc, a lecturer in the Asian American Studies program.
Eight students passed around the list of demands they prepared to present to the dean of undergraduate studies dean in 30 minutes and finalized the argument they wanted to express for months.
Phil Nash, a professor in the Asian American Studies Program, and Kai Kai Mascareñas, Asian American and Pacific Islander Student Involvement and Advocacy coordinator, also attended.
From 2013 to 2016, Khúc taught one to two courses a semester in the Asian American Studies Program, said William Cohen, undergraduate studies dean. This academic year, he added, she operated on a one-year contract as a full-time faculty member.
Khúc was informed that her one-year contract would not be renewed in April, which did not give her enough time to apply to other universities and find full-time positions there, said Tommy Piantone, a junior information systems major and one of Khúc's students.
To show their support, members of the Asian-American community on campus started a petition in mid-March urging this university to make Khúc a full-time lecturer. The petition was not successful, which is why 10 of Khúc's supporters met with Cohen and Cynthia Stevens, the undergraduate studies associate dean, to present their position on the situation.
The group wanted, at the very least, for Khúc to take the place of Grace Lee, a full-time staff member as the Asian American Studies academic advisor who is leaving the position at the end of this year. In addition, the group wanted students to have a role in the future hiring of faculty members to make sure there was transparency and accountability in the faculty search process and something similar to Khúc's situation would not happen again.
The maximum the group asked for, listed on a three-page document, was for funds to be taken from the various programs Khúc positively impacted — including women's studies, cultural competence and counseling — and used to form a new chair in Intersectionality Studies that Khúc would hold.
Recently, the university established a new faculty position within the Asian American Studies Program for a full-time lecturer next fall that was "almost identical" to Khúc's current position, Piantone said. To find someone to fill the position, the university went through the normal process of a faculty search.
"A faculty committee undertook the search. The members of this committee, including an adjunct instructor, have taught consistently for the program and have expertise in the fields associated with the position," Cohen wrote in an email about Khúc. "They approached the process earnestly, seeking to secure a high-quality appointment while following campus equity procedures and maintaining confidentiality."
Many in the Asian-American campus community felt Khúc was most qualified for the role, but she was not hired as a full-time lecturer for next year.
Sierra Jan, a senior Chinese major who was at the meeting with the dean, said the faculty member selected to fill the position is a well-liked and well-qualified professor from Harvard, but Khúc has more standing in the community at this university.
"This is more of a personal thing," Jan said. "This is more of a one-on-one position that not only requires the educational background but also the personal aspect as well."
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During the meeting, the students testified to Khúc's positive impact on the university.
"I feel like I speak for everyone when I say Mimi is someone who goes above and beyond whatever you ask of her, and she will always be that way," Piantone said. "It would be a shame to see her go."
The dean remained firm on his stance throughout the meeting that Khúc could not be granted Lee's or any other position just because of student advocacy. A search, whether for a faculty or staff position, would have to be made for the most qualified person to fill the position; it would violate equal opportunity laws to do otherwise, he said.
"Part of what equal opportunity laws and fair hiring practices address is overcoming favoritism," Cohen said. "Once the position is announced, every candidate has to be treated equally; they have to be given the same opportunities."
When asked if Khúc's current contract could be renewed, Cohen said that would have to be a program decision.
"I'm just not sure there are needs in the program or budget in the program that we'd need to [renew her contract]," he added.
During Khúc's time at the university, her students have appreciated her contributions to the Asian-American community.
"I actually care about school because of her classes," said Conor Huynh, a junior psychology major who took two of Khúc's classes last semester and signed the petition to support her. "Her class changed my whole life."
Piantone said at the meeting that students in the program felt "disrespected" that their input was not taken into account when the faculty search was made, especially considering the unique relationship the program has with its students.
Nash established the Asian American Studies Program in 1996.
Danielle Ocampo, who was not at the meeting but signed the petition, said the program was created by the advocacy of Asian-American students who demanded to have a minor relevant to their experience as a minority on campus.
"If students can't even have a say in who their professors are, then it kind of nulls the whole creation of what Asian-American studies is built upon," said Ocampo, a sophomore psychology major and Asian American Student Union co-president.
"It was an ethical search process. Someone was selected and he accepted," Mascareñas said. However, she noted that the hiring process can shift to include students involved with the program.
Although the dean did not commit to any of the proposed positions, he said he would consider adding students to the search committee for future faculty members and agreed to meet again in the future if the group had more to say.
After the meeting, Khúc's supporters were optimistic. Nash said "tremendous progress" was made. The group talked about their next steps now that their support was recognized by the dean.
Jan said she would ask Janelle Wong, Asian American Studies Program director, to start the process of having Khúc's contract extended another year.
"The student support has been really, really meaningful to me," Khúc said after one of her classes Thursday. "It makes me happy to see students involved in their education and wanting their voices heard."
Senior staff writer Rosie Kean contributed to this report.