Hi Blog. Here’s a nice short 500-word summary of one issue I’ve been covering for more than ten years now: Academic Apartheid in Japan’s Universities. Reprinted with permission of the author. Arudou Debito in transit
Behind the Music: An explanation of the university shuffle
Published in the April 2007 issue of JALT’s The Language Teacher
in the Job Info Center column (p. 45 – 46).
Working at Japanese universities resembles musical chairs. Every year the music starts and instructors with expiring contracts run around looking for a new job. Most universities hiring foreigners full-time offer one-year contracts, renewable three or four times. Contrary to popular belief, universities don’t cap renewals at three or four because if a teacher works long enough they can’t be fired. Schools remain safe as long as they state the number of renewals and a few have contracts renewable up to ten years.
To most thinking people, forcing instructors to leave every few years appears short sighted. Yet, university and government officials have their own reasons for preferring term-limits.
Keeping costs down is one reason. The penny pinching began in December 1992 when Ministry of Education officials phoned all the national universities and warned them against keeping foreign teachers in the higher pay brackets. Schools soon sacked foreigners over the age of 50 (most had been promised a job until retirement), replaced them with teachers on capped contracts, and refused to hire anyone over the age of 35 or 40 (Hall, 1994). Yet, despite a 1997 law allowing universities to employ Japanese faculty on term-limited contracts, the use of capped contracts to economize, while increasing, remains largely limited to foreign staff (Arudou & McLaughlin, 2001).
Attitudes towards foreign teachers reveal the more important reason for the caps. University and Ministry of Education bureaucrats regard foreigners as models of foreign culture with expiry dates stamped on their foreheads rather than real teachers who have a long-term role to play. For example, Niigata University’s president admitted wanting foreigners “churning over constantly” (JPRI Staff, 1996). In an Asahi Shimbun editorial, Shinichiro Noriguchi, a University of Kitakyushu English professor, contends “native speakers who have lived in Japan for more than ten years tend to have adapted to the system and have become ineffective as teachers” (Noriguchi, 2006).
Ministry of Education officials justified firing older foreigners from national universities by arguing younger instructors would be better examples of American culture (Hall, 1998). Nearly a decade later, Ministry bureaucrats justified term-limits by contending they “encouraged the movement of teachers to other universities which was of benefit to both teachers and the universities” (Cleary, 2001). Exactly how they benefited anyone was left unsaid.
If nothing else such attitudes are at least consistent, changing little since the Meiji Era. Viewing foreigners as disposable goes back to the 1903 sacking of Lafcadio Hearn from what is now Tokyo University.
Are the caps discriminatory? While nearly every Japanese instructor receives tenure from the day they are hired and nearly every foreigner is shown the door after a few years the Supreme Court, with a little legal legerdemain, ruled that such hiring practices don’t violate the Labor Standards Law which applies only after someone has been hired (van Dresser, 2001).
Luckily, some universities do appreciate that employing foreigners permanently can benefit a school. So what’s a foreigner in search of job stability to do? Getting a doctorate couldn’t hurt but the key is Japanese fluency. According to activist Arudou Debito “you’ve simply got to understand what’s going on around you” (Arudou, personal communication). Then again, neither provided much protection during the purge of the 1990’s.
Arudou, D. and McLaughlin, J. (2001). Employment conditions in the university: Update autumn 2001. JALT Kitakyushu Presentation. Retrieved January 20, 2007 from https://www.debito.org/JALTninkisei112401.html
Cleary, F. (2001). Taking it to the Ministry of Education: Round three. Pale Journal. 7(1). Retrieved January 20, 2007 from https://www.debito.org/HELPSpring2001.html#kumamoto
Hall, I. (1994). Academic Apartheid at Japan’s National Universities. JPRI Working Paper No. 3. Retrieved January 21, 2007 from http://www.jpri.org/publications/workingpapers/wp3.html
Hall, I. (1998) Cartels of the Mind: Japan’s Intellectual Closed Shop. New York: W. W. Norton.
JPRI Staff. (1996). Foreign teachers in Japanese universities: An update.
JPRI Working Paper, 24. Retrieved January 20, 1997 from http://www.jpri.org/publications/workingpapers/wp24.html
Noriguchi, S. (2006). English education leaves much to be desired. Asahi Shimbun, Sep. 15, 2006. Retrieved January 20, 2007 from http://www.asahi.com/english/Heraldasahi/TKY200609150129.html
van Dresser, S. (2001). On the employment rights of repeatedly renewed contract workers. PALE Journal, 7(1). Retrieved January 20, 2007 from https://www.debito.org/HELPSpring2001.html#vandresser