UCLA is one of six universities approached by the Turkish government to establish an endowed chair of Ottoman and Turkish history.
A gift of $1 million will be given to UCLA if the endowment is approved. The Turkish chair, if approved, will be the first endowed chair to be fully funded by a foreign government. The Turkish vice consul supports the act as a legal means of promoting cultural studies.
"An endowment is an investment of a large amount of money where the interest is donated to a distinguished scholar to assist in his research," according to Karen Mac of the UCLA public information service. UCLA endowments never account for the scholar's salary.
Armenian students suspect that political propaganda is the reason for the Turkish government's interest in funding an endowed chair. Ardashes Kassakhian, president of the Armenian Students Association, compares the Turkish donation to "Saddam Hussein giving a donation to UCLA to develop a department for Middle Eastern studies."
"The Turkish government is attempting to rewrite history with the credible support of American universities," he added.
"I have received many complaints about the proposed chair already. We will definitely have a round-table discussion where these issues will be addressed," said Richard Von Glahn, chair of the history department. A chair funded by the Turkish government may be a conflict of interest, said Von Glahn.
Despite the controversy surrounding the offer, UCLA is maintaining objectivity regarding the issue.
"All endowments are processed in the context of three priorities: they must be in line with the mission of the university, the normal academic and administrative processes of review and an effort to respect freedom of expression and academic expression," said Brian Copenhaver, provost of letters and science. UCLA officials maintain that all chair positions are subject to a "normal process of academic review," said Copenhaver.
During the past five years the Turkish government has been supporting research in America's most prominent institutions of higher learning. Princeton, Harvard, Georgetown, the University of Chicago and Portland State have received funds from Turkey, according to Kudret Oytan, the vice consul at the Los Angeles Turkish Embassy.
The research is intended to "enhance the cultural heritage that renowned institutions like UCLA have established in the fields of Ottoman and Turkish history," said Oytan.
The process of endowment is a rigorous process that starts with a committee on academic personnel from the academic senate. This committee recommends a candidate to the department head, who is then decided on by the dean, the provost and finally, the chancellor.
Heath Lowry, the recently-appointed chair of Princeton's Near Eastern studies department, faced resistance from the Armenian community.
Although Kassakhian would like to see a department of Ottoman and Turkish history, he is concerned with the motivations of the Turkish government and fears that the scholar appointed to UCLA will be as controversial as Lowry of Princeton.
The Turkish vice consul expressed concern over the population discrepancy of 1 million Armenians to 10,000 Turkish living in Los Angeles. The Turkish vice consul is afraid that the Armenian population is using its influence to limit advancement of Turkish culture.
"The Armenian community in Los Angeles is the biggest community of Armenians outside of Armenia," said Oytan.