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Dr. Cynthia Worthington, President,
Concerning the Foreign Teachers at the Prefectural University of Kumamoto, Kumamoto, Japan
On October 2, 1998, six of the foreign teachers at the Prefectural University of Kumamoto received notice that they would not be employed from the end of the current academic year. This is the latest dramatic turn in the five-year struggle against discrimination against foreign teachers at the university. Unlike their Japanese colleagues, the foreign teachers have strictly limited terms of employment. In spite of this, the prefecture embraces slogans like 'A gentler, kinder Kumamoto -- Let's make a discrimination-free community'. We urge the prefecture to practice what it preaches.
In 1993, the former Kumamoto Women's University began recruiting greater numbers of foreign teachers as part of its transformation into the new Prefectural University of Kumamoto. All the teachers signed Acceptance of Appointment documents (shuunin shoudakusho) issued by the Governor of Kumamoto for submission to the Ministry of Education clearly stating that the positions were full-time. When the new university began in 1994, however, the foreign teachers were not offered contracts which were in accord with the documents they had signed. Instead of receiving the full-time contracts they had expected, four of the teachers were given 'special, irregular, temporary/part-time' contracts (tokubetsu shokutaku hijoukin gaikokujin kyoushi). The remaining five foreign teachers were employed as 'regular, general public employees (joukin ippan koumuin) but were given three-year term appointments. In contrast, the Japanese full-time teachers, without exception, are all employed without term limits.
Only the foreign teachers have term limits, one year or three year. Further, the teachers on one-year contracts receive no bonus, are not eligible for promotion, and are denied other benefits.
The four teachers who were denied 'regular' posts asked for the full-time contracts they had agreed to and signed in the Acceptance of Appointment documents. They refused to sign the contracts for 'irregular' employment and persisted in their refusal over the next four years. Together with most of their 'three-year' foreign colleagues, they continued to ask for the elimination of term limits, which applied only to foreign teachers. During this period, four more foreign full-time teachers were employed, and like their predecessors, they, too, were given 'irregular' contracts.
These 'irregular, temporary/part-time' teachers are not the usual part-time
lecturers who are paid by the hour; they work full-time, engage in research,
and are responsible for entrance examinations (writing examination questions,
grading, and interviewing), among other
In 1997, faced with increasingly onerous contract renewal processes and acting upon legal advice, the foreign teachers formed the Kumamoto General Union, affiliated to the National Union of General Workers, National Council. The union asked the university to employ all full-time teachers the same regardless of nationality. Formal negotiations began in October 1997. The university, however, rejected all claims at each of the five negotiation sessions saying only that its employment practices were 'appropriate' for teachers who were native speakers of English, and that the university does not practice discrimination. In January 1998, although negotiations were underway, the university unilaterally imposed worse contracts on the 'irregular' teachers. Finally, in February 1998, the president of the university refused to discuss the new contracts and abandoned negotiations.
In the face of the continuing refusal of the university to discuss the contracts, the teachers belonging to the union held a one-day strike and Human Rights Rally on June 24, 1998, calling for a resumption of negotiations and an end to discrimination based on nationality. The Rally drew more than 100 people, including concerned citizens, supporters from other universities, regional NGOs, students, and union activists from all parts of Japan.
By that time, the university had already launched a review of foreign language education. The new curriculum would entail reducing the number of English classes offered and increasing the size of some classes from 25 to 40 students. These changes will make it more difficult for students to learn communicative English and will leave them ill-prepared to participate in a global community where English, the language of technology and business, is the medium of international communication.
The insistence by the one-year foreign teachers that they should be employed as full-time faculty members has been justified by documents recently obtained from Kumamoto Prefecture. The documents show clearly that in 1993 the university reported to the Ministry of Education that it was employing ALL its foreign teachers as full-time faculty members with the rank of professor, associate professor, or lecturer (assistant professor). While informing the Ministry that it was employing its teachers as full-time lecturers, the university was in fact employing some of them on part-time contracts. This practice, the educational equivalent of keeping double books to falsify accounts, cannot be condoned.
We view the situation at the Prefectural University of Kumamoto with profound concern. The employment of full-time teachers as 'special, irregular, temporary/part-time teachers is inappropriate and irregular. It is plain the university has been using nationality as a criterion for employment. It is the sole factor determining whether to impose term limits. Only and all foreign teachers are appointed with term limits. We believe this is discriminatory. The discrimination has been compounded by the failure of both the prefecture and the university to honor its own promises to employ the foreign teachers as full-time lecturers. With its decision to dismiss the six teaches on the 'irregular' contracts, the university has found a vindictive and arbitrary way of dealing with the problem. It punishes teachers whose only offense has been to speak out against an unfair system.
The dismissal of the Kumamoto teachers is a fate that has been experienced by many other foreign teachers working in Japanese universities, especially in the public sector. While growing numbers of universities now offer fair employment regardless of nationality, most of the hundreds of foreign teachers are still at constant risk of losing not only their jobs, but in may cases, their visa status as well.
We urge the Prefectural University of Kumamoto and Kumamoto Prefecture
to recognize the importance of eliminating systemic unfair treatment by
reinstating the dismissed teachers and employing them on the same basis
as their Japanese colleagues. This would truly set an example of how a
'discrimination-free community' can be achieved.
Thank you for your support.