Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ronald Takaki Passes

Distinguished professor of Ethnic Studies and famed public intellectual, Ronald Takaki, passed away this Tuesday at 70 years old. Among his many accomplishments, he taught the first Black History course at UCLA and developed the undergraduate and graduate programs in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley where I received my doctorate.

Takaki was also a committed activist who participated in the Free Speech movement, fight for the maintenance of Affirmative Action, Multicultural Studies requirement, saving of Ethnic Studies...and he always stood with the students in their many causes. Even after he was diagnosed with MS decades ago, I would always catch him in the forefront of protests for civil rights and social justice. The debilitating disease proved too much so Takaki left us on his own accord.

My fondest memory of Takaki was when as a junior I spoke to him during his office hours. I went on and on about myself for about 15 minutes before he cut me off and said, "and who are you?" Then broke into his story about how as a young man, he only wanted to surf. "Ten-toes Takaki was what they called me," he disclosed. When I explained that I needed a letter of recommendation and feared I'd never get into grad school, he said something that remained with me forever. He said, "You know, I was let go from UCLA [more specifically, he was denied early tenure when he openly criticized the university's hiring policies] and thought, well, there goes my academic career. But, friends called me to UC Berkeley and I moved the whole family here for a job and have been here since. So, everything happens for a reason." From that day on he became my mentor. In graduate school, he organized my orals and read drafts of my dissertation.

I last ran into him about a month ago while walking our dogs. He commented he thinks I drive too fast. I complained about the travails of the tenure process. As usual, he said, "You'll be fine." I'll miss him very much. He is a great lost in the world of race relations.