WINNIPEG — Billionaire Montreal philanthropist Stephen Jarislowsky has donated $1 million to the University of Manitoba to create Canada's first chair in Middle East and North African studies.
U of M has matched the $1 million and will also provide a faculty salary and other supports. "The primary role of this chair will be to teach courses, not just to conduct research," says Richard Sigurdson, dean of the faculty of arts at U of M.
"The chair in Middle East and North African studies came about after a long bit of negotiation with Mr. Jarislowsky. He is quite interested in issues relating to conflict and seeking ways to resolve disputes. His interest is in looking for ways that academic work and research can shed light onto areas of conflict and bring forward a more peaceful world."
Sigurdson notes that the Middle East constitutes an area of crucial historical and political importance, particularly in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. The chair will be an internationally renowned scholar in the Middle East, whose mission will be to "build knowledge and enhance understanding of the peoples, cultures, and societies" in this conflict-ridden part of the world, he says.
According to U of M documentation, one of the purposes of the chair is to create, disseminate and promote research and scholarship of the region "with the aim of ensuring that knowledge can be generated as a means of transcending narrow ethnic and religious based conflicts."
Sigurdson says, "We feel that the modern history of the Middle East and North Africa is something that the U of M could become a leader in, and we could be able to generate more interdisciplinary research. We have a very strong history department. We have people who study the Middle East in the fields of political science and sociology. We have the Centre for Globalization and Culture Studies and the Arthur V. Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice.
"We feel that a chair in the modern history of the Middle East could work together with all of these others. We hope that with this new chair, we'll be able to generate more interest in exchange programs for U of M students and faculty to the Middle East region. We also hope we will be able to attract more visiting faculty members from the United States, Europe and Israel."
The endowment of the Middle East chair will enable the U of M to host lectures, symposiums, colloqia and conferences featuring university faculty and other internationally renowned experts in the region.
Sigurdson notes that there are several institutions in the United States that have chairs in the Middle East and is hopeful that U of M will be able to forge relationships with the schools.
Tami Jacoby, an associate professor in U of M's political science department, currently teaches the university's sole Middle East course focusing on the Arab-Israeli conflict. While the course wasn't taught this year, it will be renewed next year.
Jacoby, who has lived in Israel, says that "a stronger Middle East focus at the University of Manitoba will provide students with a much-needed source of information and outlet for discussion about this very important region of the world that has been sorely lacking in the city."
Ben Baader, an assistant professor who teaches Jewish history in U of M's history department, says, the new chair "is a very respectable position" and presents a "wonderful opportunity" for U of M and Canada.
The Jarislowsky Foundation has endowed 15 chairs at Canadian universities in a variety of subjects in the areas of the sciences and the humanities.
German-born, Jarislowsky is described in Internet biographies as a billionaire businessman and philanthropist whose family was driven out of Nazi Germany in 1941 for harbouring Jews.
In the 1950s, he started the investment management firm of Jarislowsky, Fraser and Company Ltd., and by 2005, he was managing assets of more than $54 billion.
An international search is underway to find a professor to fill the chair, and possibly start as early as July 1, 2008, for an initial five-year term.