The Thomas Tam Professorship in Asian-American Studies

Chancellor Matthew Goldstein has announced plans to establish a named professorship in honor of Dr. Thomas Tam, a former CUNY trustee, CUNY alumnus and prominent Asian-American educator who passed away on Feb. 27 at age 62.

During a memorial service at the University’s Asian American/Asian Research Institute on March 9, the Chancellor said the Thomas Tam Professorship in Asian-American studies would be developed jointly by the CUNY Graduate School and University Center and Queens College.

Tam, a key leader in the Asian-American community, led the effort to establish the institute and to create several Asian-American organizations including the Chinatown Health Clinic (now the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center), the Asian American Film Festival and the Asian American Higher Education Council.

“We are pleased to name the professorship in honor of Dr. Tam, who was a highly regarded educator whose admirers stretched far beyond the Asian-American communities he served in so many beneficial ways,” said the Chancellor. “His professional career reflected his deep devotion to education, particularly at the collegiate level, and a special emphasis on community health care and education in New York City and elsewhere.”

CUNY Trustee Wellington Z. Chen said, “Dr. Tam clearly gave us far more than what we can ever repay him. We will all remember his legacy and will try to follow his footsteps.”

Tam was a renaissance man. The Chinese immigrant earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from City College; a master’s in filmmaking from Montclair State University in New Jersey; a master’s in public health and a doctorate in socio-medical sciences from Columbia University.

He taught at Lehman College, Columbia University and St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. While he was a CUNY trustee from 1989 to 1996, he served on several presidential search committees. He organized the first Asian American Higher Education Council, which was made up of faculty and staff from throughout CUNY.

“Dr. Tam worked diligently on behalf of CUNY and the Asian community,” said the Chancellor. “He was instrumental in establishing the exchange program between CUNY and Shanghai.”

The Chancellor added that the Asian American/Asian Research Institute that Dr. Tam co-founded will continue to carry on his important work. The institute, a University-wide scholarly research and resource center established in 2001, focuses on policies and issues that affect Asians and Asian-Americans. It covers Asian-American studies, East Asian studies, South Asian studies and trade and technology studies. Two years ago, the Chancellor established a student scholarship administered by the institute in Dr. Tam’s honor.

Many of its key programs, including the Friday evening lecture series, the CUNY Asian American Film Festival; and workshops on China in the 21st Century, tai chi, Chinese calligraphy and cinema, were established by Dr. Tam with the assistance of CUNY student staff, during the four years he was its executive director. Nine major conferences on topics as diverse as global entrepreneurship and the well-being of senior citizens also were held during his tenure.

In addition to Asian-American issues, Dr. Tam devoted his life to education, health care and film. One of his short films was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

A pillar of the city’s Chinese community, Dr. Tam was honored by many organizations, including the Chinese-American Planning Council and the New York Chinese Bilingual Educators Committee. He also received a special award from The Institute of Chinese Culture.

The City University of New York was founded in 1847 as the Free Academy in New York City. The City University of New York is the nation’s largest urban public university. CUNY comprises 23 institutions: 11 senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law at Queens College, the CUNY School of Professional Studies, and the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education. The University serves more than 231,000 degree-credit students and 230,000 adult, continuing and professional education students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program for 32,500 high school students, is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 300 high schools throughout the five boroughs of the City of New York. The University offers online baccalaureate degrees through the School of Professional Studies and individualized bachelor’s degrees through the CUNY Baccalaureate. The University Teacher Academy provides free tuition for highly motivated mathematics and science majors who seek teaching careers in the city.