JALT PALE Roundtable of Nov 3 06 Report re Japan’s future academic work


Friday, November 3, 2006, 1:15-2:50 PM, Room 21A, Kitakyushu International Hall
Full details on both organizations respectively at
https://www.debito.org/PALE and http://www.jalt.org
By PALE Members, collated by Arudou Debito

Continuing the Roundtable forum that packed the hall at JALT 2005, five PALE members paneled a meeting to discuss a variety of issues relevant to the conference’s theme of “Community, Identity, and Motivation”. All presentations touched in some way upon employment issues, including issues of job security, union representation, the relationship of nationality to job description and employment terms, and the growing role of dispatch teaching arrangements in Japanese universities. They dealt explicitly or implicitly with the proper roles and responsibilities of PALE and JALT in managing these issues.

PALE Program Chair JONATHAN B. BRITTEN (jbritten@cc.nakamura-u.ac.jp) moderated. He introduced the goals and current projects of PALE, and spoke briefly on the growing role of PALE as the primary means for JALT members to obtain advice and assistance with employment problems and other labor-related issues.


MICHAEL “RUBE” REDFIELD (rube39@mac.com) developed a history of the “academic ideas” behind the use of dispatch teachers, i.e., the idea that Japanese linguists teach the language, and non Japanese basically function as native-speaking “informants”. This shift away from content-based teaching for “native speakers” is an unwelcome trend. He surveyed the ‘foreign experts’ use in Meiji, went thru Harold Palmer and the Coleman Report (20’s), AS Hornsby and Structural Linguistics (30’s), Fries, Lado and the Ford Foundation (50’s) in bringing us up to the present. He showed how historically Japan has welcomed foreign ideas (when deemed relevant) but not foreign people. He finished up with a discussion on how the past has influenced the present, and then compared foreign academics to lab animals; when they have been sufficiently abused or have mastered the maze, it is time to bring in a “fresh specimen”.


PATRICK O’BRIEN (pobrien@hawaii.edu) echoed this with his case of academic substitution, where non-Japanese are being taken out of content courses. Despite having a PhD in American Studies, he has been deprived of any classes in his workplace (Hokkai Gakuen University) dealing with his field, and confined to teaching ESL only thanks to his “native speaker” status. His classes have instead been to Japanese instructors. The statistics bear this out: According to the Japan Association for American Studies, 98.5% of positions devoted to teaching US culture are taught by Japanese. When Pat brought this situation up with the American Studies Association, they showed a remarkable incuriousness.

Pat also had a situation where elements within his school launched a campaign to get him fired. Trumped-up sexual harassment charges against him, which even made the local newspapers, fortunately came to naught, but the question lingers: When communication breaks down within the department or university, to whom might the individual educator turn? Is a Japanese union the best choice? Is a professional association such as JALT tasked to represent members in such disputes? To what extent is pressure from outside Japan (gaiatsu) a realistic option? (The American Studies Association, for example refused to help.) What worked for Pat was standing his ground, getting a lawyer involved to negotiate on his behalf, and ultimately, joining a Japanese labor union.

Pat further summarized his speech as follows:
As a foreign instructor in Japan, I’ve lately felt part of the PALE community, which now, I feel, includes Dr. Ivan Hall. Hall’s “Cartels” and “Bamboozled” provide the intellectual framework for our efforts on employment in higher education here. Due to the lack of interest in the academic credentials of Westerners, Japan ends up employing only a low number of content instructors, giving such classes to Japanese professors. Unfortunately, the identity politics so prevalent in today’s academic circles in America makes it difficult for me to appeal to them for support (the white male still being seen as a colonizer and hegemonist). Two additional challenges facing us here in Japan are 1) Brian McVeigh may be right that “daigaku” is not the equivalent of “university” and 2) thus far the Ministry of Education (Monkashou) has been absent from any discussions on foreign content instructors. Though PALE is part of JALT, foreign content teachers can turn to PALE for support.

EVAN HEIMLICH, a Specially Appointed Foreign Associate Professor of Cross-Cultural Studies, was brought to Japan from the US by Kobe University in 1997, but whom–with its entire contingent of five foreign professors–the Faculty of Cross-Cultural Studies is now purging. He requested JALT support teachers, especially foreign language teachers, by defending their professional interests against such systemic abuses, which are becoming much too common.

Japan’s cultural nationalism, Heimlich argued, is unacceptedly disciplining Japan’s language teachers, whose professional interests have almost no collective defense politically, legally, diplomatically, nor even from the labor movement. While politically teachers in Japan no longer have a very powerful voice, foreign teachers, if noncitizens, do not have any political representation at all; and most faculty councils ban them. The embassies, Heimlich added, hardly regard teachers as a significant constituency. Legally, Heimlich claimed, many foreign teachers cannot retain legal representation either–partly because employers label about ninety percent of them as “temporary workers,” exploiting manifold loopholes to evade legal protections on language teachers’ employment.

Trade unions–the main shield of employment–Heimlich said must be joined and strengthened. Yet he argued that teachers’ professional interest as ‘intellectual workers’ tends to make a poor fit with the goals of the labor unions. Labor unions focus on retaining employment for all members, rather than on the tourniquets banning the promotion of foreigners from “special” or “ALT” status to the same status as their Japanese colleagues.

Meanwhile professional associations command some respect in Japan–and some, notably the dentists’ association, have dramatically advanced members’ professional interests—so Heimlich concluded that JALT can help protect its members against the worst, systemic abuses against language teachers. He identified these as follows: the revolving-door policies of employment; the tourniquet-policies blocking foreign language teachers from joining the main body of the teaching profession; and the periodic, categorical purges safeguarding professional segregation.

In answers to questions from the floor, Heimlich mentioned legal action against the national government, such as a civil lawsuit which Arudou Debito is organizing (https://www.debito.org/kunibengodan.html) to raise awareness; and international lobbying both through other professional associations, as well as through the ILO and the United Nations, which Stephanie Houghton and others have been researching. Finally, Heimlich pointed to a website, http://faqracismjapan.blogspot.com, an FAQ on criticism of Japan’s institutional racism.


Finally, IVAN P. HALL, invited guest speaker for PALE this year, and author of the influential book CARTELS OF THE MIND, rounded out the roundtable with concluding comments. He mentioned “the sixth cartel”, referring to the five “intellectual cartels” shutting out foreign ideas from the Japanese polity, particularly in the fields of journalism, academia, and law. The sixth cartel he called the “enfranchisement of the overseas cocktail circuit”, where embedded academics and policymakers overseas, often chairing institutions with Japan-sourced grants, themselves turn a blind eye to the problems on the ground over here, and with the help of US-Japan cultural-bridge associations (which Dr. Hall is a veteran of), do a very good job at keeping the US out of understanding Japan.

Dr Hall also gave a two-hour speech later on in the day on the issues he calls “Academic Apartheid” in Japan’s academia. We hope to make a transcript of that speech public in the near future.


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