Crown donation to fund chairs, home for Center

Gift could produce myriad other benefits in mid-campus area

Photos/Mike Lovett

Listening to Naghmeh Sohrabi's inaugural lecture for the Charles (Corky) Goodman Chair in Middle East History, from left, Crown Center Director Shai Feldman, Provost Steve A.N. Goldstein '78, Corky Goodman, Lester Crown, President Fred Lawrence and Dr. Kathy Lawrence.

The Crown family of Chicago has made a major gift to Brandeis University that will create three new endowed faculty chairs, help to provide a permanent home for the Crown Center for Middle East Studies and potentially jump-start renovation of outdated mid-campus buildings.

“The Crown family's extraordinary generosity is matched by their vision for what a great research university can be,” President Fred Lawrence said. “Their gift will further support the Crown Center as the foremost institute for scholarly examination of the Middle East and will add to the critically important endowment that supports Brandeis' research mission.”

Lawrence also praised Shai Feldman, the Judith and Sidney Swartz Director of the Crown Center, as “the driving force behind a center that has produced path-breaking scholarship that expands understanding of this critically important part of the world,” and Provost Steve A. N. Goldstein ’78, who was instrumental in procuring the gift.  

Feldman said the Crowns are ideal donors because of their deep interest in the substance of the center’s work.

“Gratitude, recognition, ceremonies and names on walls don’t interest them at all,” Feldman said. “They are interested in the research being conducted. They are engaged. They ask interesting questions and they have never tried to micro-manage the center. They have made me the envy of many colleagues” in centers at other universities and in Washington.

Crown family support for Brandeis long predates its founding the Middle East center. In 1968, the Crowns established Brandeis’ Irving and Rose Crown School of Graduate Studies in American Civilization and created the Crown Fellows program to fund its students’ work. Crown Fellows have held endowed chairs at Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Graduates include Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Oshinsky, Ph.D.’71, Emmy Award-winning historian Ray Arsenault, M.A.’74, Ph.D.’81, and Stephen J. Whitfield, Brandeis’ Max Richter Professor of American Civilization, Ph.D. ’72.

The first of the three new chairs will be named the Charles (Corky) Goodman Chair in Middle East History. It will be occupied by Assistant Professor of Middle East History Naghmeh Sohrabi, the Crown Center’s associate director for research. Sohrabi spoke today on “The Role of History in Understanding Today’s Iran” to a full house of students, faculty, Crown family members and university administrators at an event in Rapaporte Treasure Hall marking the inauguration of the chair. Family patriarch Lester Crown and his family member and close colleague Charles Goodman, who is a former Brandeis trustee, also spoke. Following a brief reception, other leading Crown Center scholars participated in a forum on current conditions in the the Middle East. 

[Read a report on the forum.]

The areas of study and the occupants of the other chairs to be funded by the gift will be determined based on the Crown Center’s priority study areas and the availability of top scholars, according to Feldman. The study areas are Syria-Lebanon, Turkey, the politics of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and sectarianism, tribalism and ethnicity in the Middle East, Feldman said.

All the new chairs will be located in academic departments. 

The gift will help to secure a permanent home for the Crown Center, a longtime goal of the university and the Crowns. A strong possibility that is under consideration is construction of a new level in Schwartz Hall in the mid-campus area. This would enable the university to make sorely needed improvements to Schwartz and to replace the aged heating, venting and air conditioning system that serves Schwartz and neighboring Brown Hall, according to Provost Goldstein.

The new level in Schwartz would contain both the Crown Center’s home and additional offices to be used by the Office of the Provost to house new programs, visiting scholars and faculty temporarily displaced by renovations elsewhere on campus. Other improvements could include renovation of the Schwartz auditorium into a high-tech venue, creation of full access to both Schwartz and Brown for individuals with handicaps and construction of two new classrooms, possibly including the university’s first active-learning classroom – a room designed to allow faculty to move beyond lecture format to integrated use of media and collaborative learning.

The Schwartz-Brown renovation proposal will require further consultations with faculty and an architectural planning and organization phase that will extend halfway into spring semester before a final decision can be made, Goldstein said. If the proposal is adopted, construction would begin as soon as possible after the end of classes next spring, in an effort to get the bulk of the most-disruptive work done over the summer. The new spaces would be ready for use beginning the following summer. 

Goldstein said he hopes this will serve as a model for development and redevelopment at Brandeis in the coming years because “this shows how faculty-driven, mission-based thinking can advance programs of excellence, like the Crown Center, in ways that strengthen the university overall.”

“This demonstrates what our centers and interdisciplinary programs can do for us,” Goldstein said, “strengthening areas of distinction and the core by bringing endowed positions to the schools, enhancing our capacity in areas where we define the cutting edge, enriching the academic milieu and renewing the campus for everyone.”

He noted that repurposing of Schwartz, one of the least energy-efficient buildings on campus, would become environmentally friendly, and Schwartz and Brown also would gain an elevator and bathrooms for persons with disabilities.
Lawrence praised the provost’s development of the multi-faceted proposal.

“Steve Goldstein has demonstrated great vision and leadership,” Lawrence said, “working with the Crowns and the academy and attending to the bricks and mortar needs of the university as well.” 

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