UCLA's International Institute has been awarded $1 million to fund research and programs on a range of contemporary Israeli issues.
The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation gave a chaired endowment – a research budget given to a professor – to the institute's Israel Studies Program last November. The institute plans to bring in a professor from outside UCLA who specializes in the field to become the chair by the next academic year. The endowment will be used to fund the chair's research on topics of his or her choice.
"It's an exciting opportunity," said Ronald Rogowski, interim vice-provost for international studies and dean of the international institute. "It allows us to recruit a leading scholar who might otherwise not come to UCLA."
The goal of the endowment is to "create a deep and broad understanding of Israel, its achievements, as well as its challenges" at UCLA, said Janis Minton, senior advisor of The Gilbert foundation, which funds programs in the United States and Israel to promote tolerance, education, health and arts.
"We hope the gift will be able to support many generations of students at UCLA by creating an excellent teaching and research program with distinguished faculty."
The award is one of three chaired endowments that the International Institute has received within the past few months. The other two are in Korean Christianity and Japanese Studies.
Before recruitment for a chair holder can begin, the president of the university and the Academic Senate need to approve the position. If the endowment is approved, which the institute expects to hear within a few months, Rogowski will create a committee to search for the chair holder.
"It will be an international search that will focus on excellent scholarship," said Carol Bakhos, an assistant professor of Jewish Studies and a member of the Israel Studies Program advisory committee.
In addition to being an endowed chair, the professor will also have teaching responsibilities and will ultimately be integrated as a member of the regular tenured faculty.
"The only difference is that this professor ... will have a fancier title and a substantial research budget," Rogowski said.
The endowment states that the chair holder must research "key issues of contemporary Israel," but it does not specify which subjects. Topics could range from demography, sociology and political science of Israel to its literature and law, Rogowski said.
Though it is unclear what the research will focus on, Bakhos believes the research will benefit UCLA and the community.
"It will enable us to not only strengthen but to further develop the Israel, Middle Eastern, Near Eastern and Jewish Studies," Bakhos said. "It will enable us to develop the Israel Studies Program by providing an opportunity to engage scholars on an international level."
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director of the UCLA Hillel Center, said the endowment will give a chance for a greater understanding of Israel's culture, history, architecture and other facets of the country.
"Israel needs to be studied not only in the context of the ongoing conflict with the Arab world," he said.
"Having a professor who is an expert on Israel will enrich the discussion on campus. People who come from different perspectives will have much more profound conversations."