A petition requesting Stanford University to rescind its decision to terminate the contract of the only Cantonese lecturer on campus has garnered nearly 1,500 signatures.

The university’s decision will effectively erase the program catering to a sizable Cantonese community, the petition said.

It then reminded the university of its “historical obligation to the Cantonese community because its foundation was built on the backs of Cantonese migrant workers.”

The petition was launched after the university earlier this year announced it would not renew contracts of 208 lecturers in light of COVID-19 budgetary challenges.

Lecturer Could Return

Sik Lee Dennig, the founding lecturer of Stanford’s Cantonese program, said the university told her that she could return on an hourly basis in the fall if funds are available, reported The Stanford Daily earlier this month.

Dennig further said Stanford told her they “hope” they will continue one Cantonese class in the fall of 2021, depending upon the students’ demand.

Denning, who has been teaching Cantonese at Stanford for over two decades, said around 76 students enroll in her classes every year.

Students Are Disappointed

Seeing the future of the program in flux, former students of the course reacted with disappointment and hurt as they said the language helped them connect with their roots.

“When my grandfather died, it became urgent for me to learn my heritage language so that I could talk to my grandmother,” said Jamie Tam, one of the petitioners and member of the Class of 2010. “I felt cheated by the absence of Cantonese at most schools, but at Stanford, I could finally learn Cantonese and have it fulfill the language requirement,” she added.

Since 2001, when the program was started, around 1,000 students have taken the course, the petition said, which included people of Cantonese descent, Mandarin speakers, and Stanford students who wish to study Asia.

“[Dr. Dennig’s Cantonese courses] prepared me to communicate with my Hong Kong informants in their native tongue, and my whole research program and dissertation would not have been possible without the language foundation they provided,” said Hantian Zhang, Ph.D. scholar and another signatory to the petition.

“For all social science students whose research interest has brought them to Hong Kong, south China, and Southeast Asia, Cantonese language skill is essential,” he concluded.