The Japanese government is considering donating $5 million to the Walsh School of Foreign Service to fund an endowed chair in Japanese Studies, who will teach both undergraduate and graduate students.
The donation, if approved by the Japanese government, will be part of Japan’s annual budget to be released in April.
“We are honored to be considered for this chair — to be one of the universities that is considered for this chair — and we hope to get it,” Director of Asian Studies Victor Cha said. “But nothing is certain yet. If we do, it would be a major accomplishment for our Asian Studies program because it really has grown dramatically over the past five years or so. So it would be fantastic if indeed we get it.”
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University are also being considered for the donation, according to Cha. However, SFS Interim Dean James Reardon-Anderson said that he is hopeful the donation will be granted to Georgetown, but added that he was unsure of their decision-making process and criteria.
“I think it’s very, very likely at this point that we will get this funding,” Reardon-Anderson said. “They [the Japanese embassy] have been quite forthcoming, and we have been in close contact with them, and I think everything is on track.”
The Embassy of Japan declined to comment on the proposed donation.
Around 60 students are enrolled in the Master of Arts in Asian Studies Program, housed in the SFS, according to Reardon-Anderson. An additional 20 to 25 undergraduate students per class year are pursuing an Asian studies certificate in the SFS.
The SFS currently does not house any chairs in Japanese Studies, although the College houses the Nippon Foundation Chair in Japanese Studies. The Nippon Foundation Chair, held within the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, was founded about 20 years ago and is currently held by professor Kevin Doak, who which oversees the study of the Japanese language. On the other hand, the new chair would focus on Japan’s place in global affairs and international politics.
Japanese history professor Jordan Sand said that the endowment from the Japanese government will improve scholarship in Japan at Georgetown University.
“Japanese studies doesn’t have enough people,” Sand said. “That’s why this [endowment] is so important. We really need beefing up. We have a superb language program, and we have a small group of — I’d like to think — very good professors. But we don’t have as much resources as we need.”
The talks with the Japanese embassy began about a year ago and have been led by international relations professor Michael Green, who holds the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Cha and Asian Studies Program administrative specialist Kathleen Fisk, according to Sand.
“I don’t think we have seen something like this [endowment] that’s directly funded by the government before,” Cha said.
However, Cha said that the fact that a foreign government will potentially fund Georgetown has no bearing on the intellectual freedom or freedom of speech of the university.
In 1980, Kuwait endowed the Sheikh Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah Chair in the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies with a $1 million donation.
In 1990, a 10-year grant from the German government established the SFS BMW Center for German and European Studies.
Once a donation is made, the donor does not have control over the professorship other than the field of study the chair will specialize in, according to Cha. Georgetown staff would have full control over the selection and search process of the chair.
Georgetown’s offering of Asian Studies opportunities has been steadily increasing over the past several years. One major addition was the 2012 launch of the SFS’s Master of Arts in Asian Studies Program.
Another improvement was a pilot program launched this year, titled “The Georgetown-Japan 2020 Initiative,” which gave undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to work on Japanese research and travel to Tokyo to present at a public conference and attend various government, think tank and academic meetings.
“Asian studies has just grown exponentially and interest in Asia has grown exponentially over the past couple of decades,” Sand said. “In many ways we have to play catch-up. … The demand was huge and it felt really pent up.”
Cha said that the demand for Asian Studies is in large part due to President Barack Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” strategy announced in 2013.
“Georgetown has been pivoting to Asia even before the Obama administration pivoted to Asia,” Cha said. “We look at people who apply to our program and a couple of other top programs on Asia, and I think we are ranking pretty highly up there right now.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be in Washington at the end of April to meet with Obama and address a joint meeting of Congress. The university has been in discussions with the Japanese embassy about the prime minister’s schedule but no decision has been made on whether he will visit Georgetown University, according to Reardon-Anderson.
Abe’s speech to Congress will be the first time a Japanese leader will make such an address, emphasizing the increased importance Japan has in U.S. foreign relations.
“I think that [the endowment] is so important because East Asia is so important, because Japan has a very strong relationship with the United States — a very unique one,” Sand said.