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Cal State panel fails to suspend Cyprus program

Officials seek new policies for the system's international operations after San Diego State summer session triggers debate.

December 07, 2006|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

A trustee committee for the Cal State system declined Wednesday to suspend an overseas study program on conflict resolution held on the divided island of Cyprus.

Representatives of the Cyprus government had pushed for the suspension because the course, sponsored by San Diego State University, is offered on the Turkish-run portion of the island.

They told the special committee of California State University trustees that it was "illegal and immoral" for the university system to operate the program at Eastern Mediterranean University. Some accused the Turkish administration on the island of human rights abuses.

Faculty and students, however, said the push by what some called the "Greek lobby" threatened academic freedom and the role of higher education in foreign policy.

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, in response to a coup by Greek Cypriots seeking the island's union with Greece. Massive displacement of Greek Cypriots followed, and a wide rift remains between the U.S.-recognized Republic of Cyprus and the unrecognized, Turkish-administered part of the island.

In the end, the trustee committee voted 5 to 1 to ask Chancellor Charles B. Reed to develop new policies for the system's international operations.

But representatives of both sides are expected to continue the debate when the committee reports back to the entire Board of Trustees at its Jan. 23-24 meeting.

Among those calling for the program's suspension was Stuart E. Eizenstat, a former high-level Clinton administration official and President Carter's chief domestic advisor.

In a letter to Reed this week, he compared the Turkish-run regime to South Africa in the apartheid era.

"When confronted with a similar situation involving investments in apartheid South Africa, California and its universities properly declined to participate until resolution of the local political and human rights concerns," wrote Eizenstat, who is with the law firm Covington & Burling, which represents the Cyprus government. "I respectfully ask that you take a similarly principled stand today."

But a number of faculty and students argued in favor of the program, launched on the island last summer with 26 students, saying it promotes understanding of Cyprus and other divided nations.

Indeed, a recent letter from a U.S. State Department official said Washington favors educational and cultural exchanges with the Turkish Cypriot community in hopes it will lead to reunification and said San Diego State was making "an important contribution."

One female student at the meeting who attended the program last summer said it offered participants insight in both governments on the island, which she said broadened her understanding of international affairs.

"I had the opportunity to talk with both Greek and Turkish Cypriots," she said.

Representatives of the Republic of Cyprus, however, said Eastern Mediterranean University was operating illegally on property owned by Cypriots displaced by the 1974 invasion, and they warned trustees of potential legal liability.

deborah.schoch@latimes.com

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