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June 12, 1999
Ann Arbor Gets A Sikh Chair
Arthur J Pais in Weirton, West Virginia
When a philanthropist goes around endowing a chair or donating funds to a university, more often than not, it is the school where the person studied that benefits first.
But neither Jaswinder Kaur Chattha nor her husband Amrik Singh Chattha studied at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor where they recently endowed a chair of Sikh Studies in the memory of their parents. Though the Chatthas would not reveal the amount, sources believe they gave $ 1.5 million.
Chattha, who migrated to America from Punjab 32 years ago and completed his residency at Harvard Medical School, says the University of Michigan was "very receptive" to the idea of a Sikh Studies chair.
His wife, who did her residency at Boston University, too liked the idea of a chair in a university far removed from the East and West coasts.
Sikh studies are taught at half a dozen major universities in America mostly on the East and West coasts, and there are Sikh studies chairs in Milwaukee and Santa Cruz.
An endowed chair means the creation and continuation of a particular program is not at the mercy of the university. Interest from the endowment is used to pay the salary of a professor.
The school is looking for a Sikh scholar, and it is likely that the courses would begin early next year. Ann Arbor is one of the most acclaimed state-run universities in America. In reputation in the Midwest, it ranks next to University of Chicago.
The Chattas live in Weirton, a small city in West Virginia where he is a neurologist and his wife is a psychiatrist.
During their studies and professional life in America, they have continually felt that Sikhs and their religion, their culture and tradition are misunderstood.
"If only a few hundred Americans know more about our religion and culture, our purpose in endowing the chair will be served," Chattha believes. The Sikh Studies is also expected to draw second generation Sikhs in America.
Unlike southern California, which has over 50,000 Sikhs, there are about 3,000 Sikhs in Michigan. The presence of a Sikh chair in the neighboring Wisconsin state does not worry Chattas or the administrators in Ann Arbor. They believe that Ann Arbor, which has an excellent reputation for its commitment to multiculturalism, could attract students from all over America.
The chair is named Tara Singh and Balwant Kaur Chattha and Gurbox Singh and Kirpal Kaur Brar Sikh Studies Professorship.
The Weirton couple has been involved in a number of Sikh activities. They helped raise funds for the Sikh temple in Pittsburgh.
The value of education was drilled into them by their respective parents right from their early childhood, they say.
One of the reasons they refused to disclose the amount of donation was because of their belief that the value of education cannot be weighed.
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