Short-sighted Soas

September 23, 2005

The situation that has developed at the School of Oriental and African Studies regarding East Asian studies is grave (Letters, August 26). According to reliable information, two senior specialist librarians with responsibilities for Chinese and Japanese studies and with years of experience have been made redundant. They are to be replaced by staff who may have had no experience in co-operating with other librarians of East Asian collections or negotiating with Chinese and Japanese publishers and booksellers, but who are equipped with what is described as a working knowledge (whatever that means) of the language that is concerned.

Academic staff were not consulted about these decisions and 19 people, including the heads of departments of Chinese, Japanese and Korean studies at the school and others who direct research in those subjects, have tendered their resignation from all non-contractual obligations as a result.

The replacement of the experienced staff at the library is counter to the school's claim to be a centre of excellence in Asian studies and to the need for deep bibliographical knowledge and years of experience with which to maintain the collections and to serve scholars on an international level. The director of Soas will need to explain this change.

The situation also raises the question of whether Soas is taking the first steps towards following Durham University, which closed its department of East Asian studies last year.

Michael Loewe
Foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge University

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