Dear USC President Nikias:

I am writing to you to request immediate action by the board to allow for the issuance of posthumous honorary degrees to the former Nisei USC students.

Additionally, we request that the university officially apologize to the students and their family members for the humiliation and suffering experienced as a result of a past university decision to withhold the issuance of the Nisei students’ academic transcripts.

This effort to gain official recognition has taken more than four years. We believe that this issue could have been decided much sooner had it not been for the fact that the Asian Pacific Islander community is not represented on the Board of Trustees or in senior administration. We are thankful that a student-led petition has now led you and the Board of Trustees to honor the living Nisei students with honorary degrees.

The university recently published information on the incoming freshman class of 2012. Thirty percent of the incoming class will be Asian Pacific Islander, an increase of over 7 percent over the previous year. API graduate students total 16.5 percent of the total graduate student population.

Based on the average tuition and fees paid by undergraduates, API students contribute more than $300 million in annual revenue to USC.

In addition to their financial contribution, Asian American students bring their aggregate grade point averages and SAT scores that have enhanced the national academic standing of the university.  We believe that there is a direct correlation between the university’s ascendancy into the upper ranks of American universities and the increase in Asian American students.

However, in stark contrast, a perceived “glass ceiling” exists at USC, as evidenced by the total absence of Asian Americans on the Board of Trustees and in senior administration.

If there were Asian American members on the 55-member Board of Trustees who could effectively advocate for a one-time suspension of the honorary degree rules, this matter would have been dealt with much sooner.

We would ask that the Board of Trustees’ call for a special meeting before next week’s commencement ceremony. The meeting would be for purpose of providing a one-time, special suspension of the honorary degree policy, in the same manner as the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges under the direction of Assembly Bill 37.

Additionally, a suspension of the policy would also be consistent with the Board of Trustees’ own Code of Ethics, which states:

“At the University of Southern California, ethical behavior is predicated on two main pillars: a commitment to discharging our obligations to others in a fair and honest manner, and a commitment to respecting the rights and dignity of all persons.

“As faculty, staff, students and trustees, we each bear responsibility not only for the ethics of our own behavior, but also for building USC’s stature as an ethical institution.”

The university has an excellent opportunity to resolve the Nisei degree issue in a manner that will enhance USC’s reputation as “an ethical institution.” This will also open the door to dialogue on dispelling any misperceptions that Asian Americans are less than worthy to attain positions of leadership and authority within the university organization. The Asian American community is ready to step up and contribute to the growth of USC through its policies of diversity and inclusion.

Should you have any questions or would like to discuss this in person, please contact me.

Fight On!

Jonathan Kaji
Former USC Asian Pacific Alumni President (2007-2009)
Former USC General Alumni Association Board of Governors member (2007-2009)

Bruce Kaji
Founding Chairman and President of Japanese American National Museum
USC alumnus

Cc: Mr. Ed Roski Jr., Chairman, Board of Trustees