U. of C. gets $100 million donation to study global conflict

1 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Brothers donate $100 million to University of Chicago for study of global conflict resolution.

Chicago — Citing a migration crisis that has displaced more people this year than at any time since World War II, entrepreneur brothers Thomas and Timothy Pearson said Wednesday their family foundation is giving $100 million to the University of Chicago for a research institute aimed at using big data to study and resolve global conflicts. The gift from the brothers’ family foundation, which in the past has helped underwrite the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, will establish what will be known as the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts within the university’s well-regarded Harris School of Public Policy, the brothers announced Wednesday. Thomas Pearson, chairman of the foundation, said, “The imperative is to identify new strategies now that will address the spectrum of entities engaged in violent conflict from global superpowers to state and substate and nonstate groups.

The Islamic State organization and other militant groups pose challenges that defy Cold War solutions, said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who hailed the announcement as “extraordinarily important” during an event on the Chicago campus. The new institute will recommend strategies based on quantitative social science research on the interaction of military, economic, political and cultural factors. The gift comes amid a humanitarian crisis in Europe and the Middle East as refugees are fleeing conflicts in Syria and elsewhere – an example, university officials said, of why the institute is needed.

A yearly forum convening scholars and policy experts will be part of the effort. “I applaud and marvel at the scale of the undertaking,” Haass said. Saying that the United States and other nations have made global conflicts “in many cases worse,” Haass encouraged researchers to remember that “not acting is just as consequential in any situation as acting.

Charitable donations reached an all-time high in 2014, to about $38 billion, bolstered by large, one-time gifts, according to an annual survey by the Council for Aid to Education. The United Nations estimates that 13.9 million individuals were displaced due to conflict or persecution in 2014, and nearly 60 million people worldwide are either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum.The brothers argue that non-state conflicts, with drug cartels and insurgent groups like ISIS, pose the most significant foreign policy challenge of our time. Harris Dean Daniel Diermeier said the institute, besides conducting research and hosting an annual forum, will train a generation of scholars “to help resolve conflicts and inform more effective policies.” Pearson Foundation CEO Timothy Pearson acknowledged that it will be a “formidable” task.

The family also considered as many as a dozen other universities in the U.S. and abroad, but ultimately decided that Chicago was the best suited to establish the institute. We’ve got to take stock of what we’ve learned, and then we’ve got to feed it into policy making.” Pearson said his father was a minister in Iowa who participated in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights, which made the family a target of the Ku Klux Klan, he said. He sounded very much like the son of a minister and the grandson of another in declaring: “Our contribution is to leave the world a better place. . . (We) can—no, we will—overwhelm the world one small action at a time.” In a forum following the press conference, Simon Henshaw, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, U.S. Department of State, said refugee policy has shifted dramatically because most displaced persons are located in urban areas, compared with a preponderance of “closed locations” previously. “We need data on their needs . . . a bigger-picture analysis on how to respond to refugee populations. The initiatives put in place to address previous conflicts don’t apply to groups such as Islamic State or al-Qaida, he said. “The Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War were between superpowers or along ideological lines.

It’s not just the data; it’s the analysis.” The university’s other $100-million gift was from an anonymous donor in 2007 for undergraduate scholarships; the biggest, for $300 million, was in 2008, when the Graduate School of Business was renamed for donor and graduate David Booth. Thomas Pearson was senior vice president for the Alliance companies, which comprise several energy firms, and is now an adviser in business, law, and international finance. Thomas Pearson, a lawyer, is a member of the executive council of Cohesive Capital Partners, a New York-based private equity firm, and was formerly general counsel of NASDAQ-listed master limited partnerships and of McLouth Steel Products.

It’s the type of conflict that does not fall into the categories we are used to.” The institute, officials said, will use data-driven, quantitative research to develop strategies that not only have a military component but also include economic development and diplomatic strategies, Diermeier said. Although there are a handful of scholars at other institutions who have worked on such a process, the U. of C. will have the first institute to focus solely on a data-driven approach to addressing global violent conflicts, officials said. “Most universities have long ago stopped doing policy relevant-work,” Haass said. “Most of what goes on in universities is pretty irrelevant to the real world. Often, as in the case of the Sept. 11 terrorists, they have advanced degrees. “To have the most impact, (terrorist groups) take their most highly trained operatives and put them on the most difficult mission, those that create the most damage,” Diermeier said. “If you have a policy solution that’s about increasing educational opportunities, that sounds like a good idea.

It’s better to invest in economic opportunities rather than educational opportunities alone.” Data also show that investing in infrastructure in war-torn countries such as Iraq isn’t always the best strategy either. The program also will provide fellowships for master’s degree and doctoral candidates, as well as an undergraduate curriculum that will train the next generation of policymakers, officials said.

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