The Northern Almanac Ep. 17 - 'Southeast Asian Studies Established'

May 26, 2020


Welcome to The Northern Almanac, a WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU's 125th anniversary.


At 2 a.m. on October 14, 1960, Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy stood before a crowd at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to share his idea for a new type of world diplomacy called the Peace Corps. NIU fully embraced the concept and began training Peace Corps volunteers. 


Buddhist monks from Mahachulalongkorn University with Provost Richard Bowers, May 1972.

By 1968, NIU had played host to more than 700 Peace Corps trainees headed for Southeast Asian countries. Faculty leading the effort were Norman Parmer and J. Patrick White from the History Department; Political Science professors Allen Dionisopoulos, Daniel Wit and Ladd Thomas, and Business professor Don Arnold. They provided the foundation for one of the nation’s leading centers for Southeast Asian programs. 


In March, 1963, the Illinois Board of Higher Education approved establishing NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies, with Political Science professor Ladd Thomas as its coordinator. Initially concentrated on Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, faculty interests grew to include other countries, including Vietnam. At the height of anti-war protests in May 1970, the Center was fire-bombed during a campus riot. 


Over the years, the Center has attracted millions of dollars in federal grants, and the University Libraries developed extensive holdings of Southeast Asian books, periodicals, art and videos. In 1986, NIU launched the Center for Burma Studies. Today NIU faculty and student exchanges enrich both educational opportunities and mutual understanding between the U.S. and the 11 countries that collectively comprise Southeast Asia.