What's New from the Secretariat September

Beginning this month (September), we will report on what is going on at the Executive Committee for our 21st Century COE Program, which meets every month. As the name shows, the Executive Committee is a body that brings together all members who share the responsibilities for the execution of the Program, including the leader of the COE and the secretary-general.

Officially, the Executive Committee is the highest decision-making organization for the Program. Not only does it make decisions, but it also performs other functions in facilitating the execution of the Program, including the sharing of information and the exchange of opinions. The Internet age provides us with the conveniences of e-mail and the distribution of information using mailing lists. However, it still seems best for us humans to talk to each other face-to-face (Is it possible I am too old-fashioned?).

This month, the Executive Committee met on Thursday, September 18. During the actual meeting, the Committee's agenda was divided into matters to be reported and matters to be discussed. However, I will not necessarily follow that order.

The main focus of this month's meeting was clearly the international workshop set to be held in Ethiopia next month. We have nearly finished preparations for the ambitious contents, as well as the handouts and posters, for this workshop to be held with the cooperation of Addis Ababa University. We are deeply grateful to our members who spent the whole summer preparing for it. The Executive Committee felt reassured learning that the preparations were going ahead smoothly one month prior to the holding of the workshop. We would like to ask those of you going to Ethiopia next month to take good care of yourselves and have a fruitful time there. The participating graduate students seem to be very enthusiastic, so we are looking forward to seeing the feedback on the results.

There also was a report that in Cameroon, in Africa, preparations are under way for a seminar focusing on the question of how to feed back research findings concerning natural resource management to the local community. We are pleased to see that field station-based activities are thriving. However, all details of the activities of each of the field stations are not necessarily reported at the Executive Committee's monthly meeting, as the reports on their respective activities are uploaded directly to the Web site as needed.

The Web site is becoming better every day. At one point, it was reported that we needed some form of traffic control because of the complicated work process. That traffic control worked well this time around, and it was reported that the Web site has been very stable. This is very important given that the Executive Committee at its July meeting reaffirmed the policy of disclosing information on this Program mainly on the Web site without resorting to paper publications for public relations purposes. The Web site is very enjoyable now, with information updated quite frequently. If we are allowed to make a wish, however, we would like to see a large increase in the number of outside visitors to the Web site. With the goal of doing this, a plan was reported to the Committee on the launching of an on-line magazine very shortly.

On the issue of symposiums and workshops, we have been discussing draft plans since June for major events and conferences for each of the next three fiscal years. We now seem to have reached the point where we need to make the necessary decisions. The Research Promotion Section will submit draft plans to the Executive Committee next month. By that time, consultations will be held with people involved in the composition of the planning committees and other matters. Since entrance examinations for the graduate school of ASAFAS are scheduled for early October, working on this in parallel may make some of us pretty busy, although the fact that all faculty members are in Japan during the exam season will make it convenient to have meetings on these matters.

Moving to personnel matters, it was reported that a COE researcher funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science under the 21st Century COE Program was hired in line with the application. It was also reported that the acceptance process has closed for applications from students who want to be sent to field stations overseas for the second half of this fiscal year, and that the selection process will start shortly. It was reported that access to the books and materials purchased under the old COE Program (fiscal 1998~2002) and the current Program, which are stored in the main library of Kyoto University, has now become easy and smooth, as the person in charge of them has been hired at the main library. Regarding the Area Studies Information Center, we understand that a test run will start this autumn, as competent system engineers are now working energetically on the project. The plan to build a “Meta Database” is a very ambitious one, and there are high expectations for its future evolution. But what is crucial, as was reported, is the preparation of a manual to operate the system after its completion.

We are now expecting the arrival of new members of the Program, as new faculty members are usually appointed in the spring and fall. This is good news, but we also face the task of finding new people to cover areas that will be left unattended by departing faculty members. This issue was discussed at the Executive Committee this month. In any research program, some volunteer work is involved in the secretariat and on administrative committees (public relations, etc.), and we must all cooperate. Having said that, however, we all know that everyone is very busy as it is, so it is always difficult to ask anyone to put in extra work. The Executive Committee has decided to narrow down candidates first and then work to get the consent of those who have been selected.

Finally, we must discuss the execution of the budget, an inevitable accompaniment to the work of the Executive Committee. The size of our current fiscal year's budget, at 120 million yen, may appear fairly large , but it really does not give us much latitude considering that we have extensive international activities involving as many as 200 researchers. We need to manage the budget meticulously, and we did make some minor adjustments at the latest Committee meeting. The workshop in Ethiopia is reportedly experiencing some budgetary overruns despite the great efforts that are being made to trim unnecessary spending. This is partly because we started out with an unreasonably frugal budget. As a result, we decided to eke out some funds to cover those overruns from the rest of the Program's budget. This seems the natural thing to do, as the workshop really embodies the purpose of this Program. Otherwise, the execution of the budget has been smooth. As for the 21st Century COE Program itself, under the sponsorship of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, we had assumed that project applications had come to an end with those made in the previous and current fiscal years, but we now have information that applications will be accepted for two more years. The acceptance of additional applications may be a good thing, but it may make next fiscal year's budget for existing projects a little tight.

Summer is an important time for area studies researchers to conduct fieldwork in Asia and Africa. With that season drawing to an end, program members are returning home one by one. Autumn is the best season for both teaching and learning. It is also the season of harvesting from land and sea. Let us enjoy the good food autumn provides and at the same time work hard to make this program meaningful to all of us.

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