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Asian Scholar Reflects On Fifty Years at Berkeley

Over Last Half Century, Robert Scalapino Has Witnessed Some Of the Campus's Defining Moments

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Posted November 3, 1999

During his 50 years at Berkeley, Robert Scalapino became an internationally-recognized expert on Asia, advised heads of state and three U.S. presidents and garnered numerous awards and honors for his work.

But among his most cherished accomplishments is the success attained by many of his former students.

Among his top achievers -- Sadako Ogata, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, James Soon, Governor of Taiwan, and likely presidential candidate of that country and Han Sung-Joo, South Korea's foreign minister. The roster of noted academics is equally impressive.

"This is a great source of pride for me," said the 80-year-old Scalapino, emeritus professor of political science. "The joy of teaching is to see the accomplishments of your students. "

Sitting in his small office in the Institute of East Asian Studies, a program he helped found in 1978, Scalapino reflected on his life at the university. Through the years, he has witnessed some of Berkeley's most defining moments, starting with the loyalty oath controversy.

Scalapino was working at Harvard when Berkeley hired him in 1949. He signed Berkeley's oath while still in Cambridge, unaware of the storm brewing on the west coast.

"When I got here, I was somewhat puzzled by what was going on," said Scalapino. "I signed a similar oath at Harvard, but it was not that big an issue there."

At Berkeley, Scalapino taught political science classes on Japan, China and East Asia and U.S. foreign policy in Asia.

His interest in Asia began during World War II, while serving in the Navy as a Japanese language officer. He was in the Okinawa campaign and traveled to Osaka during the early days of the occupation and was fascinated by what he saw.

"My experiences during the war persuaded me to concentrate my academic work on Asia," said Scalapino. "I found the culture intriguing and diverse and was compelled by the uncertain future of this area."

In the early 1960s, Scalapino witnessed growing dissent among students over the right to free speech. But according to Scalapino -- who as chairman of the political science department was involved in negotiations with students -- the issue had more to do with university governance than free speech.

"Members of the Free Speech Movement wanted a larger role for students in running the university, including issues of personnel," said Scalapino. "But we are a professional university, and personnel decisions should be made by those that have been hired to teach here."

The Free Speech Movement cost Clark Kerr his UC presidency, says Scalapino, because the more conservative Board of Regents considered his handling of the dispute inadequate. Fallout from the student strike had other far-reaching consequences, he said.

"An interesting, although unintended outcome of the movement was the election of Ronald Regan as governor of California," said Scalapino. "The upheaval at Berkeley gave many voters in the state a cause to rally around, which ultimately put him in office."

As much of the campus embraced the anti-war movement of the late 1960s and early seventies, Scalapino's controversial views on U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War made him a target for activists.

Though critical of certain U.S. strategies, he generally supported efforts to resist Communist aggression in Vietnam. Scalapino also served on an advisory committee formed by then- Secretary of State Dean Rusk on East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Because of this activity, members of a student group stormed one of Scalapino's classes and accused him of committing war crimes.

The group, called the War Crimes Commission, claimed he "enthusiastically acted as a consultant and advisor for the U.S. war machine" and participated in "planning and designing military programs of aggression and genocide in Vietnam." At that time, Scalapino refused to discuss the matter, saying "this class will not be politicized or disrupted in any way."

"I resented this interference into academic life," Scalapino said of the incident. "People have the right to disagree with my views, but the classroom is not the proper forum for disruptions."

Because of his expertise on Asia, Scalapino was offered numerous government positions over the years, including Assistant Secretary of State and Philippine Ambassador, but turned them all down.

"I prefer to keep an academic base," he said. "That way I can maintain my independence."

As the campus moved into the late 1970s, Scalapino was approached by faculty and administrators to create a center for research on East Asia. To fulfill this mission, the Institute of East Asian Studies was established in 1978, with Scalapino named as its first director, a position he held for 12 years.

Since its inception, the institute has been host to many ground-breaking conferences, including the first academic exchange with representatives from Outer Mongolia and meetings with the Soviet Union's Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies.

With Scalapino's help, Berkeley's institute is now considered one of the nation's top-ranked programs and is one of only three federally-designated national resource centers for East Asian research.

Among Scalapino's numerous awards, including the Berkeley Medal, a Fulbright Fellowship and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is the Second Class Order of the Sacred Treasure, a medal of recognition bestowed by the government of Japan for his efforts to promote cooperation and understanding between Japan and the U.S. He received a similar honor, the Heung-In Medal, from Korea.

Though the Kansas-born Scalapino retired from teaching in 1990, he maintains a busy schedule that includes research, writing, lectures and extensive travel to Asia. This year alone, he's traveled to that area seven times.

An event to honor Scalapino's numerous achievements, and his 80th birthday, took place Oct. 27, in San Francisco. The campus is naming a portion of its new East Asian Library and Studies Center in Scalapino's honor. The center will gather together under one roof the Institute of East Asian Studies, the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, and the East Asian Library.



November 3 - 9, 1999 (Volume 28, Number 13)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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