A trip to Saudi Arabia by Rice University officials during January helped to finalize private sector gifts--gifts totaling a million dollars toward a $1.75 million goal--to establish an endowed chair for the study of Islamic economics, finance and management.
Fund-raising efforts will continue while a university search committee begins the process of recommending a candidate to fill the academic post to President Malcolm Gillis and Provost David Auston. The chair is expected to be filled by the fall of 1997.
"This chair, together with the recently funded chair in Arabian Studies, and in conjunction with our existing strengths in Medieval Islamic Studies, places Rice among the leading U.S. centers in teaching and research for the Arab and Muslim world," Gillis noted.
Gillis and Scott Biddy, director of Alumni Affairs, visited Saudi Arabia in January to meet with a number of that country's business leaders, including Sheikh Hussein A. Al-Banawi, president and chief executive officer of Banawi Industrial group. The Sheikh, whose brother is a Rice graduate, had the founding vision for the chair and arranged the January meeting for Gillis and Biddy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
"These businessmen are very interested in building strong relationships between the Saudi Arabian private sector and American business and education institutions," Biddy said. "They are particularly interested in fostering an environment that is conducive for exchanges between American universities and businesses and Saudi Arabian universities and businesses.
"They also want to foster a greater level of understanding about Islamic practices in business and finance and how these practices relate to trade relations, how they impact methods of doing business, and issues of trust."
During their four days in Saudi Arabia, Gillis and Biddy presented the case as to why Rice is a good place for Saudi leaders in the private sector to direct their philanthropy, Biddy said.
"We talked to them about our location in an international city such as Houston, the size of the community and the relative advantage of our developing a strategic focus on the kinds of issues they are concerned about. The chair will also build an important link between Rice and the growing Arab and Islamic communities in Houston, the Southwest, and the world," he said.
Businesses in Islamic countries play an important role in the world economy, yet U.S. students have few opportunities to study Islamic theories, principles, and laws in the areas of banking, finance, and management.
The trip to Saudi Arabia produced a number of gifts totaling $1 million. A check for that amount was presented to Gillis during a trip to New York in March with economics department chair George Zodrow and Kathryn Costello, vice president for university advancement.