Hayakawa, S(amuel) I(chiye)

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Hayakawa, S(amuel) I(chiye)

(b. 18 July 1906 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; d. 27 February 1992 in Greenbrae, California), author, semanticist, college president, and U.S. senator. He wrote Language in Action (1941), and as president of San Francisco State College (1968-1972), he ended a Vietnam-era strike that had paralyzed the college, launching his term in the U.S. Senate (1977-1982).

Hayakawa was one of four children born to Ichiro Haya-kawa, an importer and exporter, and Tora Isono, a home-maker. Ichiro Hayakawa had left his native Japan as a seaman at the age of eighteen, returning two years later to marry Tora. Soon afterwards they emigrated to western Canada.

After attending public schools in Alberta and Manitoba, Hayakawa, whose family called him “Don,” finished high school in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1923. Graduating from the University of Manitoba with a B.A. in 1927, he moved to Montreal, Quebec, to take graduate courses at McGill University. Supporting himself with secretarial work and driving a taxi in Montreal, he finished his M.A. in English literature in 1928. In 1929 his parents returned to Japan, but Hayakawa emigrated to the United States that year. He received a fellowship to begin doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where his dissertation, a study of the writing of Oliver Wendell Holmes, earned him a Ph.D. in 1935.

The following year Hayakawa received an appointment as an English instructor at the University of Wisconsin. On 29 May 1937 Hayakawa married Margedant Peters, one of his students, and considered moving west. But marriages between Asians and Caucasians were not then recognized in California, so the Hayakawas stayed in Madison. They had three children. Hayakawa adapted his dissertation to a textbook anthology, Oliver Wendell Holmes: Representative Selections, on which he collaborated with Howard Mum-ford Jones. The book, his first, appeared in 1939.

In 1939 Hayakawa moved to Chicago, where he taught English at the Armour Institute of Technology, which became the Illinois Institute of Technology. He was promoted to associate professor in 1942. A factor in his promotion was Hayakawa’s highly successful book Language in Action, published by Harcourt, Brace in 1941. The book was enthusiastically reviewed and was distributed by the Book of the Month Club, greatly increasing public awareness of general semantics. Dealing with the function and meaning of language, general semantics was originally articulated by the Polish linguist Alfred Korzybski in his Science and Sanity in 1933. Hayakawa often acknowledged that he was strongly influenced by Korzybski’s teaching and writing. Hayakawa’s Language in Thought and Action, a revision of his 1941 text, was the most successful of his many books. In 1943 he became editor oí Etc., A Review of General Semantics, the journal of the International Society for General Semantics, of which he was later president (1949–1950).

Hayakawa was an associate professor at the Illinois Institute until 1947, when he began five years as a lecturer at the University of Chicago. In 1955 he accepted an appointment as professor of English at San Francisco State College, which was renamed San Francisco State University shortly thereafter.

In 1954 Hayakawa became a U.S. citizen. A nisei (son of native Japanese), he had remained a Canadian citizen until 1954 because, even as a Canadian citizen, he was subject to the tight U.S. immigration quota for Japanese when he moved to Wisconsin. U.S. citizenship was not required to teach in the California State College system, but it was a distinct asset to his later political aspirations.

In 1954 Hayakawa edited Language, Meaning, and Maturity, a synthesis of articles that had appeared in Etc. In 1959 he edited Our Language and Our World. That same year he began a series of lectures at the University of Montreal’s Institute of Experimental Medicine and Surgery, and two years later he taught at the Menninger Psychiatric Clinic in Topeka, Kansas.

Hayakawa achieved his greatest public attention when he became acting president of San Francisco State University in 1968 during a long strike led by the Black Student Union. His actions in opposition to this strike made it clear that he was a man of definite opinions and was willing to articulate them.

The most famous episode occurred in the fall of 1968, shortly after Hayakawa succeeded Robert R. Smith, the second president to resign that year in the face of the boisterous strike led by the Black Student Union, whose principal demand was the establishment of a large, autonomous black studies department. Hayakawa was a member of the presidential search committee, and although he was sympathetic to the black students’ desire for representation, he opposed the strike, saying that a few hundred students, to advance their own interests, were depriving 17,500 others of their educations. Many members of the faculty were unenthusiastic about the strike, but Hayakawa was one of the few who actively objected. Because of Hayakawa’s stance, Glenn Dumke, chancellor of the state university system, with the backing of Superintendent of Public Instruction Max Rafferty, San Francisco mayor Joseph Alioto, and Governor Ronald Reagan, invited him to serve as acting president. Hayakawa accepted the job on the condition that he could call for police support if he needed it. He assumed office on 28 November and announced that classes would resume 2 December, at the end of Thanksgiving recess.

The first week was predictably tumultuous. On the first day of classes student demonstrators parked a sound truck near the administration building, an action the new president had forbidden. Hayakawa, wearing a brightly colored knit tam-o-shanter, confronted them, climbing on the truck and pulling wires out of their amplifier. Television cameras recorded the performance of the five-foot, six-inch-tall man with a trim athletic build and a small mustache. Even though he had to start Christmas vacation a week early to stall the demonstrations, Hayakawa was suddenly a celebrity to people who had never heard of semantics. In January the American Federation of Teachers struck. Finally in late March, when Hayakawa gave the Black Student Union a student-controlled black studies department, the campus returned more or less to normal.

Hayakawa had become the folk hero of California’s conservative establishment. He retired from San Francisco State in 1973, became a Republican, and on 2 November 1976 was elected to the U.S. Senate. As a senator, Hayakawa was plain-spoken, predictably conservative in his social and economic policies, hawkish in his support of South Vietnam, and much interested in a constitutional amendment bill to make English the official language of the United States. His voting record on other issues was unpredictable, and he was reported to have narcolepsy, which caused him to doze if proceedings were dull. These qualities combined with a political swing to the left in California politics cost him reelection in 1982. He retired to Mill Valley, north of San Francisco. Hayakawa died of a stroke in the Marin County General Hospital in Greenbrae.

Hayakawa’s papers regarding his presidency of the university are in the San Francisco State University archives. His congressional papers are in the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Substantial biographical essays are in Current Biography 1977 (1978); and Helen Zia and Susan Gall, tas., Notable Asian Americans (1995). Shorter entries are in Contemporary Authors, vol. 137 (1972); and Who’s Who in America (1991-1992). An account of his first year as president of San Francisco State University is Dikran Karagueuzian, Blow It Up! The Blacky Student Revolt at San Francisco State College and the Emergence of Dr. Hayakawa (1971). Obituaries are in the New York Times (28 Feb. 1992) and the Los Angeles Times (28 Feb. 1992).

David W. Heron