Sophians Talk about Japan and the World

Sophia University Has Made Me Who I Am Today

Junko Hibiya
(President of International Christian University)

My Studies at Sophia: Fond Memories of a Rigorous Adventure

Junko Hibiya President of International Christian University

From my junior high school days, I enjoyed English, or rather I liked the structure of language—both English and Japanese. I was different from the others: I liked everyone's nemesis, grammar. Given my interests, I thought I wanted to study linguistics at university. I was attending a Catholic high school, and luckily the Department of French Studies at Sophia University's Faculty of Foreign Studies had a special admissions track my year under which students could be admitted based on recommendations. I applied to the university through that track.

For most of the first-year students at the Department of French Studies and the other non-English departments of the Faculty of Foreign Studies, the program was simply daily immersion in the primary foreign language. In the Department of French Studies, half of our courses were language courses. These courses were considered as one set, and if you did not pass every one of them you would have to repeat the year. My memories of my undergraduate years, therefore, are of French, French, and more French. Since the classes were very small, though, we were able to make friends with our professors who were from France and Canada. Thanks to this, we still have reunions of our French class even today.

When I actually studied linguistics, I discovered that the field was quite different from what I had thought it was when I was in high school. I adjusted my expectations and entered graduate school in linguistics, having decided afresh to pursue that path. In those days, female university professors were even rarer than they are today. Dr. Kazuko Tsurumi and Dr. Sadako Ogata were at Sophia, though. I wanted to be a university professor like them, so I followed their example and earned my doctorate at an American university. If I must say so myself, it was a simplistic view [laughs], but here I am today thanks to that.

I taught some classes at Sophia at one point, and nowadays I have work that sometimes brings me to Yotsuya. It must be easier for the students now that all of Sophia's undergraduate faculties are on one campus. Most of the buildings have been rebuilt so the campus looks very different from when I attended, but I think the Sophia spirit of those days is still alive today.

Close Ties Connecting Sophia University, ICU, and Me

Junko Hibiya President of International Christian University

Thinking that I wanted to study linguistics at university, I selected Sophia and, actually, International Christian University (ICU) as my two candidates. There was also a national university with a linguistics major, but I had the sense that the school offered something different from what I wanted. If the recommendations-based admissions track at Sophia had not been for the Faculty of Foreign Studies, I might have applied to ICU. It seems that the ties among the three of us started from that time.

Today, too, things often happen that remind me of this three-way tie. For example, I learn that the parents of a student whose graduation thesis I was advising are both Sophia graduates and that Father Joseph Pittau, former president of Sophia University, performed both her parents'wedding and her baptism. Or I hear at a gathering of ICU alumni, that the family of an alumnus's deceased wife has close ties with Father Pittau. It is interesting to see how Father, to whom I too had been close, has touched so many lives.

Father Pittau became the university president the year before I matriculated. As he spoke from the podium at my Entrance Ceremony, he made a strong impression on me. There he was: an Italian man speaking in beautiful Japanese in a somewhat high voice. Come to think of it, he was in his mid-forties at that time, making him very young for a university president.

He was completely down-to-earth in his interactions with us students. He showed me many kindnesses when I was a student, and it seemed like my friends who lived in the dormitories talked with him until late into the night quite often. As a Catholic priest, he does not have his own family, and I think he viewed us students as his real children.

I would like to tell you about one other person I deeply respect, although she is not part of the Sophia community. The person is Dr. Jill Ker Conway, former president of Smith College, a highly respected women's college in the United States. She initiated reforms to open the doors of Smith to women who could not gain a liberal arts education due to economic factors. From her two memoirs, I learned she was born in Australia, attended graduate school in the United States, and first taught in Canada. We share some commonalities in our personal histories, so I feel a great affinity for her. I had an opportunity to talk personally with her at a banquet during her visit to Japan. She had the unique ability to engage people in dialogue by quickly drawing out what they want to talk about. I keenly felt that I wanted to be like her.

These two people are my role models for how to be a university president.

International Character: A Common Feature of Sophia and ICU

Junko Hibiya President of International Christian University

Sophia University and ICU were both recently selected by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to participate in its Top Global University Project. Our two universities are also both members of the Global 5 Universities, or G5.

Our two universities are similar in being global and being international in character. Behind these two traits are the spirit of Christianity as well as the network of Christian institutions, both of which we also share in common.

One concrete expression of Sophia's international character is the diversity of its faculty. It is no exaggeration to say that Japanese men have quite a monopoly on higher education in Japan even today, but Sophia has a high percentage of female academics. Even more than that, though, what is particularly distinctive about Sophia is the number of non-Japanese faculty members. When I was attending Sophia, more than half of the professors in the Faculty were non-Japanese. It was the Faculty of Foreign Studies, but the point still remains.

The same is true of ICU. We attempt to attract faculty members who have diverse values and educational backgrounds that are not all the same; it is not simply a question of having foreign nationality. The faculty members discover new things as they talk together, and this kind of environment helps students question their own assumptions and stimulates their ability to think in new ways. I believe this is how true global citizens and global professionals are born.

On the other hand, if I were to pinpoint the difference between our two universities, I would say that it is that Sophia is a comprehensive European-style university with nine undergraduate faculties located in an urban environment and ICU is an American-style university with one undergraduate faculty located on a large campus in the suburbs. In an initiative that only a liberal arts university could attempt, ICU introduced a new system of majors from the 2008 academic year under which students take general education and foundation courses in various majors to identify their specific areas of interest and then choose a major at the end of their second year. This new system has been very well received by the students.

In 2013, ICU celebrated its 60th anniversary while Sophia celebrated its 100th so we are 40 years apart in age.

Dr.Hachiro Yuasa, the first president of ICU, proclaimed ICU's founding philosophy to be to work towards "a university of tomorrow" in a perpetual endeavor to perfect the institution. When I became president, I interpreted his statement in a way appropriate for the 21st century and created three visions for ICU: to be a university where each person's potential is brought to fruition; to be a university where each person discovers his or her calling; and to be a university that continues to mature as it pursues its ideals. I am committed to doing my utmost as ICU president by leveraging my experience at Sophia University.

Junko Hibiya President of International Christian University
Junko Hibiya
President of International Christian University

Junko Hibiya was born in 1957 in Tokyo. After graduating from Sophia University with a B.A. in French Studies in 1980, she went on to earn an M.A. in Linguistics also from Sophia in 1982. She received her Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1988. After working as associate professor at the Keio University International Center, she became associate professor at the Division of Languages at ICU in 2002 and professor in 2004. Also in 2004, she was made director of Japanese Language Programs. In 2005, she became chair of the Division of Languages. She assumed the post of director of the Office of Academic Reform in 2006, vice president for academic affairs in 2008, and president of the university in 2012, a position she continues to hold today. She was visiting associate professor at the Program in Asian Studies at Dartmouth College in 1994 and visiting professor at the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University in 2004. Her specialty is sociolinguistics. Her publications include Tagengo shakai to gaikokujin no gakushu shien (Multilingual societies and language study support for nonnative speakers) (editor) (Tokyo: Keio University Press, 2005).

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