Thursday, May 20, 1993

Letter to Dean Magofuku

Dear Mr. Magofuku:

I have had time, now, to consider your disapproval of my decision to move into Tokyo, and your admonition that I stay in Fujisawa and seek out more Japanese friends. I realize you did not solicit my opinion of this use of your position, but I feel I owe it to myself to express it to you nonetheless.

One of the many ways foreign faculty are at a disadvantage over Japanese faculty is in the area of housing. In the first place, there is no legal or other recourse to the outright bigotry that foreign residents of Japan inevitably encounter when searching for a place to live. I have seen it in action each time I have assisted a non-Japanese in finding an apartment, and in the last month I have had it happen to me personally. One third of the places I chose to look at refused outright to show them to me because I was not Japanese. This is not just a nasty suspicion on my part. The agents said as much. One agent, in fact, refused even to allow me to see her listings.

When I finally succeeded, after an enervating month-long search, in finding a place to my liking, I telephoned you and asked if Keio would serve as my guarantor, as it has in the past four years. You told me you would do it for me as a personal favor.

The next day the agent phoned to tell me you had changed your mind. I would not be permitted to use my employer as guarantor, he informed me, and the pending contract was suddenly in serious jeopardy. You were not available the next day. It was two days before I found the opportunity to ask you why you withdrew your approval, and why you did not show me the courtesy of informing me in person. We never got to that question, actually.

You explained to me that Keio as an institution would not serve as guarantor for foreign employees. We would have to find our own sponsor, except in cases where you would perform that service as a personal favor.

This, as I am sure you can see, is a form of systemic discrimination. First of all, making our access to housing a personal favor puts us at your mercy. I cannot, of course, demand that you give me this "privilege", that you put your personal finances at risk on my behalf. I can only seek support elsewhere. The practice of granting housing only after personal indebtedness hits foreign employees much harder than it does Japanese. Japanese have a lifelong network of family, friends, business and school associates and others which a stranger in this country cannot match. This bias against the foreigner is profound. The fact of your refusal demonstrated clearly how fragile my stay is here. Without housing, my days in this country would obviously be numbered.

If you had simply refused to help me, I would have accepted that, since I see you as playing by the rules and not devising them in this instance. But I am writing to you now because you did not stop with a refusal. Instead, you added insult to injury and proceeded to lecture me on the conduct of my private life. You told me that you could not approve of my moving to Tokyo. You did not ask me why I was doing so, or how I felt about it. You did not ask how much time I spent making this decision, how many people I consulted in the process or what reasons I might have had in coming to this decision. You simply declared to me that I was making the wrong decision.

You told me I should stay in Fujisawa, where I could "make more Japanese friends." You did not ask me how many Japanese friends I already had, whether the friends I was moving closer to in Tokyo were Japanese or not. You simply told me I needed to make more Japanese friends. You quite evidently felt you had the right to tell me where to live, what to do about my personal life, and how to do it. Your suggestion that this could be done by remaining in Fujisawa makes me seriously question your judgment.

In this total lack of regard for my ability to manage my own personal affairs, you quite overlooked my twenty-three year association with Japan, my years of working as a foreign student advisor to students of a couple dozen nationalities, as consultant in the formation of several Japanese language schools, as English Department director of one of the largest language schools in Japan, responsible for the activities of more than sixty faculty, as planner for over twenty years of programs for Japanese in the United States. This not to mention my years of research into the careers of Japanese abroad and my many friendships with Japanese of over thirty years. You asked me nothing of any of this, and assumed instead that I needed your advice to "make more Japanese friends."

I did not respond to your lecture at the time, since I needed first to resolve the issue of finding a place to live. I must admit I am at a loss to explain your attitude. Do you talk like that to fifty-year old Japanese? Do you dictate where they should live and who they should associate with? Or do you talk to adults as if they were children only if they are foreign?

Working at SFC has been a stimulating experience. I have ridden out, as have all of us, the bumpy first three years as the new faculty and administration learn what works and what does not, and as the hidden lines of power and authority gradually separate themselves from what is tatemae. I have come to realize that the marginalization of the foreign faculty is less a function of prejudice than a devil-take-the-hindmost in a rush to find a secure position. I have learned to find satisfaction in what I can do in my classes and seminars and recognize my limitations as a non-Japanese guest worker in your institution. If you had not chosen to outline so clearly how different my situation is at SFC from that of Japanese members of the faculty, and if that insult had not followed so closely upon the repeated "no foreigners" declaration as I searched for a place to live, I would have let the whole thing lie.

But I am writing to you now to tell you I can be marginalized, but I will not be patronized. In the area of internationalization, a stated goal of this campus, there are certain issues I would rather be talking to you about than this one -- why is it, for example, that the opening of the Career Center for Women was proudly announced to a faculty which consisted, with the exception of a dance instructor, entirely of new male hires, and why, after four years, are there no more than a token number of foreign students on this campus. But the issue of caging faculty, especially foreign faculty, must take precedence.

If SFC is going to distinguish itself from other Japanese universities, it cannot demand blind obedience of its faculty. If you expect SFC students to develop initiative and creativity, you must not attempt to stifle it in the faculty. There must not be a practice of viewing faculty as loyal to Keio only if they are team players. If they sing the school song and preach the school doctrine. Foreign faculty need not be seen as disloyal (and therefore troublesome) simply because they reflect the values they brought with them from abroad. Administration must learn to see criticism as positive and constructive when it is that.

You must not get carried away with your own authority. Your patronizing lecture on my need to make friends was an abuse of that authority. If you want my loyalty you will find it easy to get. As I (and other foreign faculty) are allowed to participate in the actual workings of the university, not as tokens, but as equal partners, you will find us quite naturally loyal. If you find ways to compensate for the bigotry among your compatriots in granting us a place to live instead of making matters worse, you will see our loyalty increase.

My loyalty to Keio should not have to be explained. The fact that my student evaluations are better than the average should say it, as should my hours of committee work and my hours of time with students outside of class. If you had checked to see that I have a four year record of attending all my classes -- and on time -- you might have found it unnecessary to insult me with the suggestion my moving to Tokyo might make it harder to make it to class in the morning. But instead you tell me I am moving to Tokyo to "run away" from Keio. How little you appear to understand human nature.

Allow me to tell you something you evidently do not know. There are some among the faculty who make it a point of being seen where it counts. There are others of us who will not stay in our offices until eleven o'clock at night because we want to be energetic and efficient the next day. If you cannot recognize that each individual needs to be allowed to develop personal strategies for moral and psychic renewal, you cannot be doing your job. You must not confuse work with the appearance of work, and actual loyalty with the appearance of loyalty.

How you underestimate me. How ironic the situation. You suggest that I am "running away" from my work by moving to Tokyo. That my distancing myself will make me less effective in my work. The fact is that a thirty-year process of self-familiarization has enabled me to know how to get the most out of my life, a major part of which is my work. It is not my moving to Tokyo that distances me from Keio, but, ironically, your assumption that I can be addressed as a wayward child.

If you want my loyalty, Mr. Magofuku, you will have to allow me to contribute to this university as an independent man of some years of experience, and not by putting me in a cage and commanding me to sing.

Yours sincerely,

Alan J. McCornick