Chair of Arab Studies Endowment at Rice University


Rice Receives $1 Million for Arab Studies



Photo caption: Celebrating the AAEF's donation are, from left: Saib Saour, Kamil Zakhour, Abdel K. Fustok, Amin Bohsali, Jomana Ghandour, Rice University President Malcolm Gillis, Ahmad Hijazi, Maher Qaddumi, Al Boulos, Abdo Droubi, Christine Attar.

By Lisa Nutting
Rice News Staff

After eight years of successful fund-raising, the Arab American Educational Foundation (AAEF) has raised and donated $1 million to Rice for the establishment of an endowed chair in Arab studies.

What began more than 10 years ago as a grass roots effort by Houstonians to promote world awareness of the Arab culture became a reality Aug. 29 when AAEF presented Rice with $1 million. The endowment was gathered from more than 200 donors, with about 90 percent of them from the Houston area.

In 1985 the AAEF was founded and established as a tax-exempt, non-profit corporation by Houstonians in the academic, medical, legal and business professions who wanted to educate Americans about Arabs and vice-versa.

A first step in that direction was taken May 6, 1987, when AAEF and Rice administrators signed "Arab Studies Endowment, Policy and Guidelines-Rice University," a document outlining the endowment agreement. With those signatures in place, the fund-raising began.

"We chose to work with Rice because of its excellent academic reputation and because they shared our vision of providing students with a true picture of the Arab world," said Jomana Ghandour, president of the AAEF Board of Directors. "Here in Houston, with its many connections to the Middle East and to the world, there is currently no such program available."

Rice University President Malcolm Gillis hosted the Aug. 29 dinner honoring AAEF and accepted the $1 million endowment. In his opening remarks, Gillis applauded the efforts of the foundation and its members who went to extraordinary lengths to secure support for the chair from other foundations and individuals in the United States and countries of the Middle East, notably Kuwait.
"This was truly a community effort in fund-raising. I have not seen anything to surpass the resourcefulness and determination of the members and board of directors of the foundation in bringing to the university this newest vessel of academic distinction," Gillis said. "Indeed, in three decades of experience in leading private universities, I know of no similar group that has completed such an undertaking."

Abdel K. Fustok, M.D., chairman of the foundation, spoke at the reception and expressed his feelings of pride and satisfaction with the successful establishment of the chair.

"A few years ago, when we, at the AAEF, embarked on this journey, there were many doubters, skeptics and many who thought that our task was impossible to accomplish," Fustok said. "Not only do we want to tell these doubters that we've done it, but we want to invite them and those who want to join us to move with us towards broader and brighter horizons.

"From the onset, we realized that one of the most effective ways of combating ignorance and stereotyping is through the promotion of university-level education and research," Fustok said.

AAEF board member Ahmad Hijazi, who also spoke at the dinner, expressed his hope that the humane aspects of Arab culture will be shared with Americans as a result of having a chair in Arab studies.

"I would like to recognize Dr. Allen Matusow, the chairman of the search committee, whom we consider a real friend and comrade in arms," Hijazi said. "He was always ready to help; never said no."

Matusow, former dean of humanities and professor of history, has been involved in the AAEF project since its inception and has traveled to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the fund-raising process. He is head of the search committee, which will begin the recruitment process within the next few weeks. Matusow said the university hopes to have the position in Arab studies filled by August, 1996.
Matusow said his involvement with AAEF "was very satisfying, particularly because the people I worked with were very high-minded and very companionable and I enjoyed knowing them."

Hijazi also thanked two especially generous donors to the Arab chair - Latifah Al-Afaleq Al-Omran, a philanthropist who financed a school for over 600 needy children in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, and Dr. Ali Al-Shamlan, director of the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences.

In closing remarks, Hijazi said, "Arab-Americans of Houston-this foundation is truly yours. Please stay involved. This achievement is only the beginning."