For the past 25 years, Michael Cullinane has stood at the heart of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Cullinane has taught the introductory course in Southeast Asian Studies since 1991 and, in 2009, added a class on Southeast Asian Refugees of the Cold War. He has taught these courses for 48 semesters, with an average of 80 students per semester. Since 2006, the highly rated introductory course has been included in the programs for five First-year Interest Groups (FIGs).
Also since 1991, Cullinane has served as associate director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), one of UW–Madison’s seven U.S. Department of Education National Resource Centers (Title VI). He has been the primary author and manager of nine Title VI grants that have brought more than $11.7 million in program and fellowship funds to the university, as well as five Henry Luce Foundation grants totaling more than $1.8 million.
In addition, he is an internationally respected historian of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines – where his connection dates back to the late 1960s, as a teacher with the Peace Corps in Cebu City. His research has focused on 19th and 20th-century Philippine social, political, and demographic history.
For his accomplishments and long record of service, Cullinane has received numerous tributes, including being named an “Adopted Son of Cebu City” (2014) and receiving the Judith Craig Distinguished Service Award from UW–Madison’s College of Letters and Science (2015). This year, the UW–Madison campus has further honored him by adding the “distinguished” prefix to his faculty associate title.
“Mike Cullinane is a unique and beloved citizen in our campus internationalist community. The first thing anyone will notice about Mike is the youthful, exuberant, infectious passion he brings to everything, especially to his work with students but really to his entire work life,” says Guido Podestá, Vice Provost and Dean of the International Division.
“One reason Mike Cullinane is so admired is that he inspires everybody by modeling what an unwavering lifelong commitment to ideas and to education looks like,” Podestá says.
Several faculty members who have served as CSEAS directors expressed their deep admiration for Cullinane in their letters of support for his latest honor.
They applauded his grant-writing prowess. For example, Alfred W. McCoy, Harrington Professor of History, observed: “Given the competitiveness of these awards, there are few if any administrators on this campus who can equal this record in winning awards in the cash-starved humanities and social sciences.”
They also cited Cullinane’s scholarly expertise, noting that both of his most recent books – The Battle for Cebu and Arenas of Conspiracy and Rebellion in the Nineteenth-Century Philippines, both 2014 – were nominated for the Philippine National Book Award.
But they emphasized that his expertise extends beyond the Philippines. R. Anderson Sutton, dean of the School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, who served three terms as director of CSEAS, said: “Indeed, it is rare to find someone more knowledgeable of the whole region of Southeast Asia than he is.”
Sutton also highlighted Cullinane’s efforts on behalf of under-represented students at UW–Madison, particularly those of Hmong ancestry: “He has mentored and advised many Hmong students on campus, spearheaded the drive to offer Hmong language at SEASSI and during the academic year at UW–Madison, and wrote the successful proposal to the Luce Foundation for support for the Hmong consortium” at UW–Madison and the University of Minnesota.
Before coming to UW–Madison, Cullinane served as program officer for the Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Michigan. There, in 1983, he played a central role in launching the Southeast Asian Summer Studies Institute (SEASSI), a national consortium for instruction in less-commonly-taught languages.
SEASSI migrated among the member universities until 2000, when, under Cullinane’s leadership, a permanent home was established at UW–Madison.
SEASSI, which offers intensive instruction in as many as nine languages, has served as a model for the teaching of less-commonly-taught languages and has inspired other, similar programs at UW–Madison.
Sutton cited the influence of SEASSI: “At a recent national meeting of area studies specialists, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., a large group of Southeast Asian Studies specialists were asked who had participated in SEASSI; nearly 90% raised their hands!”
Anne Hansen, professor of history and religious studies and the current director of CSEAS, cited Cullinane’s “unfailing kindness,” saying:
“Dr. Cullinane has helped to stem more crises and turn around more lives than I can count, on a spectrum from directionless undergraduates to blocked dissertators to faculty colleagues caught up in debilitating life events like chronic illness or divorce. All of the Southeast Asianists on our campus see Dr. Mike (as his is affectionately known, in Southeast Asian style, by his international students and advisees) as the very center of our intellectual community.”
Beyond his academic and administrative endeavors, Cullinane confesses to “a fanatical obsession with competitive volleyball.”
He says, “I started playing volleyball as an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1960 and have been (almost) non-stop playing since then. It is the only part of my life that has nothing to do with any other part of my life, but has led to lasting friendships and a lot of sweat.”
He has competed with two teams that “have done fairly well over the years, winning a number of national championships.”
He also acknowledges the important role that his family has played in his life. His wife, Marguerite Roulet, works with the nursing program at Edgewood College. They have one son, Liam, who lives in Denver; two daughters, Ananda Back, who lives in Iowa, and Shanta Hinckley, who lives in California; and one grandchild, Gavin Hinckley.