Expanded version of
Op Ed (30-31)
As the famous poet Sir
Walter Scott so aptly said, “Oh, what a tangled web
we weave... when first we practice to deceive.”
On February 26th an
online petition was started on
www.change.org by supporters of Dr. Sunita Mukhi,
Director of Asian and Asian American Programs at the
Charles B. Wang Asian American Center. It asked
Stony Brook University President Sam Stanley to
reinstate her into the position she had held for the
past ten years.
The first signature on the petition's founding
letter was Jessica Hagedorn, well known author and
professor of Creative Writing at LIU, followed by
more than 50 primarily academics and artistic
directors. As of this writing, over 1400 people have
signed since then.
According to the petition, the University had not
renewed Dr. Mukhi's contract and was defunding the
programs she ran.
It was followed on March 1st by an email
response from the University sent out to many
members of the campus community suggesting that what
was in the petition was not truthful.
The truth is, neither side was being truthful, the
University most especially.
The petition for Dr. Mukhi did not lie. But it left
out crucial information that could have
substantially altered the meaning of what was said.
It is unknown if Dr. Mukhi knew she was going to be
laid off until just shortly before she was. We have
not found anyone in the Asian community who had
heard anything until just before the petition. The
first AA E-Zine knew was when SBU AA E-Zine Editor
Wilson Jiang read about it in a China Blue Facebook
While not totally the
fault of the writers, the petition confused many
readers who thought that Asian and Asian American
Studies was being cut. While Dr. Mukhi worked with
AAS faculty to bring in authors and programs related
to the courses they teach, her primary
responsibility was to bring in diversified Asian and
Asian American events and performances for the
campus community to enjoy in the Wang Center.
The University's response was a classic public
relations cover-up and it also did not lie, at least
not directly. It put truthful things in untruthful
contexts and just like the petition, it left
out crucial information that substantially altered
the meaning of what was said.
Here is what is known about each side. This is far
The University will not discuss Sunita Mukhi as
personnel matters are never discussed publicly.
Dr. Mukhi is no longer in a position to discuss
anything as there is supposedly an investigation
into her fraudulent use of her University email
account for non-University purposes. This was told to a student
editor of SBU AA E-Zine by a confidential source. He
is not being named as that would betray his source.
Presumably talking to other academics in and outside
of the University about your position and the
petition is not University business. The moral of
this and a warning to everyone - don't criticize your boss
using company email. Though if the University pushes
this, no doubt it will only reap more criticism
about the invasion of privacy. Faculty will not be
happy finding out the University is possibly going
through their emails because they may have had some
communication with Dr. Mukhi, or a pyramid, with
another faculty member who had communication with
her. Where does the University draw the line?
When Dr. Mukhi was first hired, she reported
directly to the President, then Shirley Strum Kenny,
in what is called a Management Confidential
position. MC's serve 'at the pleasure of the
President.' We do not know if over the years that
reporting relationship ever changed until Dr. Mukhi
was told in 2012 that when her contract was renewed,
she would then report to Diana Hannan, Director of
Conferences and Special Events.
Dr. Mukhi was hired ten years ago as Director of the
Wang Center after a second search. The first search
had failed to mention that the facility a director
was being hired for had anything to do with Asian
and Asian American anything. It did not even mention
the name of the Center. It was cancelled after its
deadline for receiving resumes and a new search was
conducted that did include that pertinent
In 2004 President Kenny changed Dr. Mukhi's
position, made her Director of Asian and Asian
American Programs, and had her teach in Asian
American Studies instead of being responsible for
the physical aspects of running the Center. That was
turned over to a building manager, Rob Valente. This
change in 2004 did not effect her salary or it is
unknown if it effected her
reporting relationship. As faculty, however,
she would now have to come under UUP.
In 2012 the Alumni Editor of AA E-Zine Ja Young
received an email from the head of an off campus
Asian organization asking if she had heard about
"what happened to Sunita". She was told that Dr.
Mukhi's salary was going to be cut $26,000, Dr.
Mukhi's title would be changed to Associate
Director, Dr. Mukhi would now report to the Director
of Conferences and Special Events, and Dr. Mukhi
would now spend only 55% of her time on Asian and
Asian American programming with the rest spent on
other Wang programs.
It can only be presumed since this person knew the
details, that at the time, Dr. Mukhi was being open
to her peers about these proposed changes. The email
stated that Dr. Mukhi had only succeeded in keeping
her title. AA E-Zine wrongly presumed the other
changes were a fait accompli and that Dr. Mukhi was
staying in her position.
It should also be
noted that Diana Hannan was hired as Director of
Conferences and Special Events with the intent of
increasing off campus use of the Wang Center, i.e.,
to make it a money-making facility similar to the
The announcement of her position states, "Her
role is integral in attracting organizations to the
University for one-time or recurring conferences and
In February, Dr.
Mukhi's contract was not renewed, effective
On 2/26 a former AA E-Zine
student editor was told confidentially that Dr.
Mukhi's graduate student assistants were also losing
their positions. This gave credence to the charge in
the petition that not only Dr. Mukhi but the Wang
Center Asian and Asian American programs were being
defunded as well. Programming cannot be done without
staff and the one full time assistant who would be
left, non-Asian Jennifer Iacono, could not handle it
This same editor was also told that Dr. Mukhi was
being removed because she was "expensive."
What is unknown, and which changes what is presented
in the petition, is if Dr. Mukhi refused the
reconfiguration of her position and salary cut or if
she had agreed and was still terminated.
Given that Dr. Mukhi
was not only the only Asian working at the Wang Center
but the only person with any educational background
and knowledge of Asian and Asian American artists
and performers, and
given her age (50+) and length of tenure (10 years), was the
University ethically ‘right’ in what it did?
But that question is different from
whether the University had the ‘right’ to
reconfigure her position given that her role as
Director was a
non-Union position, just as Dr. Mukhi had the
‘right’ to accept it or reject it.
Why was Dr. Mukhi too "expensive" when in the past
two years Dr. Stanley has created two six-figure VP
positions, a VP for External Relations and VP for
Strategic Initiatives*, and in both cases, the White
woman hired was someone Dr. Stanley had known or
worked with previously? Even if it wasn't cronyism,
that was the general impression many on campus had.
On 2/28, her last day,
Dr. Mukhi sent an email thanking people for their
support. In it she said she would remain in her
faculty position in Asian and Asian American Studies
teaching full time for at least a year. That would
seem to indicate that the University was abiding by
UUP contractual policies for faculty.
As for the University's response, it inflamed more
than it subsided attitudes about what had happened
to Dr. Mukhi.
The letter began with a discussion of the health and
strength of the Department of Asian and Asian
American Studies. Given that until this lay off of
Dr. Mukhi, who will now be teaching Asian
courses full time, only two to three courses in
Studies were taught each semester, the health and
strength of the Asian
side of the department is dismal. Even Asian Studies
is more a department on Asian religions than Asian
culture and history.
New faculty lines that had been promised to the
department from its inception never appeared. While
the University likes to preach it supports the
Department, the reality is quite different. Rather,
many areas of the University are newly indebted to
Jim Simons, whose multi-million dollar
dollar-for-dollar matching grant for new donations
enabled the two new positions in India Studies.
It was also signed by Dean Nancy Squires of the
College of Arts and Sciences. She is the same Dean
who only two years ago wanted to disband the
The next paragraph had multiple questionable
statements. It said the Programming position needed
to be filled by someone who could do it 100% of the
time. When had Dr. Mukhi ever asked to be less than
100%? Requiring her to be less had originally been
forced from the University's side, not from Dr.
If Dr. Mukhi refused to accept the demotion in
salary and time that was being offered to her, and
the University was now planning a new position at a
lower salary with a different reporting
relationship, it was deceptive to imply that not
being 100% was Dr. Mukhi's fault and a reason for
the non-renewal of her contract.
response also stated that an Advisory Council was
created consisting of faculty, staff, community and
students. Wilson Jiang and Eric Leung, AA E-Zine
reps to the Asian Student Coalition, have been
contacting the Presidents of all the Asian clubs to
see if any of them had been asked to be on this new
committee. So far, none have.
One would have to wonder how valid an Advisory
Committee could be if the student leaders of all the
Asian interest clubs and organizations on campus are
excluded from it.
Perhaps the best
response on the petition to the University's letter
came from community resident Valerie Krizel. She
wrote, "As a member of the community, I have
attended many lectures and cultural programs at the
Wang Center. At each event Sunita was there to
welcome me, talk to me, provide the personal to the
intellectual. She is the reason the programs work.
As a retired school administrator, I recognize her
leadership skills in the events selected, the
attitude of the student volunteers, and the ease of
participation in the programs. I've [read] the
University's response to the petition. It explains
nothing about your reasons for changing leaders."
The final analysis appears to be that the University
wanted Dr. Mukhi's salary cut, her title and
reporting responsibility changed, and to have her
work less on Asian and Asian American programming.
When she refused, the University did not renew her
contract. It is instead hiring a lower paid
Associate Director to do programming.
What that will mean is anyone's guess. It will
depend on the caliber of the person chosen and the
amount of funding given to Asian and Asian American
Programming will also depend on the availability of
the Wang Center. If Diana Hannan's job is to make it
a cash cow with outside organizations using the
facility, this will leave far less time and space
for those programs, and obviously even less time and
space to increase student programming.
Given how President Stanley has proceeded so far, it
does not bode well for the future of Asian and Asian
American programs at the Wang Asian American Center.
We would quite obviously like the University to
prove us wrong, but given that the lies about the
height of the proposed dorms behind the Wang Center
are still being told by Dr. Stanley, we are
certainly not holding our breath in bated
UPDATE: On March 7th, the founders of the petition
sent an email to the 1400+ signatories rebutting the
University's letter. The rebuttal can be accessed
The rebuttal is very similar to what we wrote, and
which anyone with any knowledge of Asian and Asian
American Studies at SBU and the Wang Center is
familiar with. The University's letter seemed
written for an audience who does not know the
- Wilson Jiang, SBU AA
- Ja Young, AA E-Zine
* The woman hired subsequently chose not to come to
Stony Brook and she was replaced by a White male.
Minor clarifications made on 3/20/13