Getting Tenure, Part II: On Being the

First of My Kind by Grace Yia-Hei Kao
December 11, 2011
tags: Academy, Asian American, Claremont School oI Theology, diversity, Grace Yia-Hei Kao, race,
Taiwanese American, tenure
by Grace Yia-Hei Kao

I`ve recently recounted how it took a village Ior me to complete the rite oI passage known as tenure review.
I want to reIlect now on the signiIicance oI my having become the Iirst
Asian American woman (n.b., third Asian American oI any gender), and
Iirst person oI Taiwanese descent to have earned tenure at my institution.
My Iirst thought upon realizing those statistics was something like:
'Wowwhat an honor!¨
But my second thought has been more like: 'Really? How is it possible
that simply being a newly tenured Asian American who is neither Korean
nor male would be enough Ior me to make institutional history?¨
It was one thing Ior Margaret Farley in 1971 to have been the Iirst woman
appointed to serve Iull-time at Yale Divinity School. It was another Ior
Katie Cannon in 1983 to have become the Iirst AIrican American woman to
receive a Ph.D. Irom Union Theological Seminary. But we`re now more
than a decade into the 21
AIter contextualizing my recent success in light oI larger demographics and
trends, I`ve since concluded that any knee-jerk temptation to attribute the previous lack oI tenured Asian
American women at CST to institutionalized discrimination must be resisted. Here`s why.
First, according to the latest statistics by the Department oI Education, only 6° oI college and university
Iaculty are Asian/PaciIic Islander (Cf. 7° Black, 4° Hispanic, 1° American Indian/Alaska Native).
Among the 253 U.S. and Canadian members oI the Association oI Theological Schools (ATS), only 5° oI
all Iaculty are Asian. While those Iigures are low, they generally correspond with the 6.5° oI all post-
secondary students who are Asian/PaciIic Islander, the 7° oI students enrolled in ATS schools who are oI
Asian descent, and the 5.6° oI all U.S. residents (according to Census 2010) who are oI some Asian
parentage (i.e., either Asian alone or Asian in combination with one or more other races).

2010-2011 ATS Data Table
Second, there has been a 30¹ year precipitous decline in tenure-track positions in academe generally.
According to the American Academy oI University ProIessors (AAUP), by 2007 almost 70° oI all Iaculty
were employed off the tenure-track. We`re talking adjuncts, part-timers, lecturers, instructors, visiting
proIessors, and so Iorth.

AAUP: Trends in Contingent Faculty

Synthesizing the above statistics, CST compares quite Iavorably. The Iact that I am currently 1 oI 3 Asian
American Iaculty (;i:., one Korean American male who immigrated to the U.S. at sixteen, one Kashmir-
born American woman, and me, a second generation Taiwanese American) out oI a total oI 27 Iull-time
Iaculty, means that CST`s representation oI Asian American Iaculty beats the national average by nearly a
Iactor oI two. What is more, that we three are all tenure-stream (when not all Iaculty at CST are) shows our
institution`s commitment to, and hope Ior, our longevity.
In addition, Asian Americans have enjoyed Iairly high visibility at CST: three current tenure-stream
Iaculty, three student groups, one Center Ior Asian and PaciIic American Ministries, the Executive Director
oI the Clinebell Institue and Director oI the Practical Theology Doctor oI Ministry program, our previous
Dean oI Student LiIe, the current Associate Vice President Ior Financial AIIairs and Planning, the head oI
our Community Center, prominent Iaculty who hold Iull proIessorships elsewhere but who teach Ior us in
our bilingual D.Min Ior Korean Contexts (e.g., Namsoon Kang, Andrew Sung Park), etc.

CST is not a perIect institution, but our commitment to diversity is
real. OI the last ten tenure-stream hires we have made in the past
Iive years, eight have been women and/or members oI a racial,
ethnic, or sexual minority. Impressive Iigures, by any measure.

What Tenure Means to Me as an Asian American Woman
Beyond the honor I Ieel about being CST`s Iirst Asian American woman to have crossed the tenure
threshold, having this kind oI job security means several things in practical terms.
O It means that I will be able to help redeIine the role oI Asian American women in Christian circles
beyond the Iamiliar tropes oI dutiIul daughter, attentive wiIe, pious grandmother, and dedicated
but almost always ancillary church workeras noble and valuable as those roles are.
O It means that I can oIIer course corrections as needed when discussions veer in unhelpIul ways
that either essentialize or otherwise misrepresent Asian Americans (even though oI course I do not
and cannot represent all oI the heterogeneity that is Asian America)
O It means that our students oI Asian heritage (who are the largest racial group behind Whites)
should have conIidence that those seeking advising, guidance, or mentoring Irom Iaculty with
particular cultural competences will have several Iaculty with which to work over the duration oI
their multi-year degree programs.
O It means that prospective students oI Asian descent, the Iamilies oI current students, alumni, and
potential donors will see even more clearly that CST values the leadership oI its Asian American
O It means that my research trajectory, particularly on Asian American theology and ethics, will
continue to be supporteda boon Ior me and, iI my scholarship is any good, Ior the academy as a

API/AA leaders honor me at my Inaugural Lecture
O It means that I can increase my investments in my
racial and ethnic communities, as well as my eIIorts to Iurther
diversiIy the proIessional and educational institutions oI which
I am part, without Iear that these labors oI love and service will
ultimately cost me my job. So, I can continue to be active in
the Asian and Asian American Working Group oI the Society
oI Christian Ethics oI which I was a Iounding member in 2008
and elected as co-convener Irom 2009-2011. I can also
continue to serve as the Iaculty advisor to the CST Asian
PaciIic Islander / American Association (API/AA) that my Iellow Asian-American Iaculty and I
had a hand in helping the students to create in 2009-2010. And so Iorth.
$core One for Taiwanese America
I recently attended the lovely wedding oI a long-time Iamily Iriend. To my surprise, her Iather publicly
introduced me, beIore the 10-course banquet began, as one oI his
honored guests. He then spoke with pride oI my accomplishments
(i.e., my education at top schools, my Iaculty positions, my book)
and then said that I was (tai wän zhï guäng,
mèi guo zhï bào)a phrase that loosely translates as 'the glory oI
Taiwan, the treasure oI America.¨
While I still blush at this hyperbolic accolade, I have since realized
that the Iather-oI-the-bride was speaking as a member oI the Iirst
generation who had experienced all kinds oI adversities (e.g.,
language barriers, Iinancial struggles, demotion in social status,
overt Iorms oI racial discrimination) while attempting to build a
new liIe in a Ioreign country Ior the sake oI his children. By
praising me, he was really basking in reIlected glory oI 'us¨, i.e.,
the second generation, most especially his own beautiIul, talented,
and kind-hearted daughter. He was proud that their struggles made it possible Ior many oI us in the second
generation Taiwanese American community to have Iound our liIe-partners, begun Iamilies oI our own,
experienced some degree oI proIessional success, and acculturated well to mainstream American society
without having had to abandon our roots.

$core Another for the Importance of Diversity
The more I think about that wedding speech, the more Iirmly I am convicted that the Iather-oI-the-bride`s
sense oI cultural pride was simply a heightened version oI what I regularly experience at Iormal academic
events like convocations and graduations. In my eight years oI being tenure-track Iaculty at two separate
institutions, I have Irequently received the 'look/nod oI recognition,¨ and even gaze oI cultural admiration,
Irom either students oI Asian descent whom I may or may not even have known (n.b., my Iirst institution
had an enrollment oI 29,000 students) or their parents.
In some cases, those students or parents have verbalized something like, ' (An-nyung-ha-se-
yo). You`re Iaculty? But you`re so young! You`re parents must be so proud,¨ to which I have generally
muttered back something like: 'I`m actually Taiwanese; I`m probably older than you think I am, but yes,
my parents are very proud oI me.¨ It`s both interesting and Ilattering that the Koreans who have
approached me thusly have wanted to claim me as one oI their own.
I am certainly honored to be the Iirst Taiwanese person, and Iirst Asian American woman,
to have earned tenure at CST. But I also know that 'with great power comes great
responsibility¨ to invoke the Spiderman principle. So I will continue to expand my
eIIorts to 'bring the tribe along¨ and to 'ope|n| the door a little wider Ior others to
come,¨ as per AAR president Kwok Pui Lan`s recent elegant exhortation.
I thank CST Ior entrusting me with this power, and I invite both the Taiwanese
American and larger Asian American community to hold me accountable to the
responsibilities that I willingly accept upon receiving this honor and privilege.

Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology and Associate
Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate Uni;ersity. She will be teaching 'Asian American
Christianity` next semester for the second time. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a
Pluralist World (2011) and is working on a second book on Asian American Christian Ethicsa field that
she and some of her colleagues recently inaugurated.