UA Receives $1M for Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Professor of Persian Language

The new professor will join the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
June 14, 2018
Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali
Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali

A $1 million grant to the University of Arizona will establish the Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Professor of Persian Language in honor of Mir-Djalali, a renowned linguist and the founder of Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute. 

The grant is from the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute Fund, a donor-advised fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. 

The new professor, who will join the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, will teach Persian language courses at all levels, and will develop curriculum and teaching materials. The professor also will contribute to the activities and programs of the Roshan Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Persian and Iranian Studies, housed in the UA's Graduate College, which was established in 2016 with a $2 million endowment from Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute via its donor-advised fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Recruitment for the position has begun, and it is anticipated that the new faculty member will begin this fall. 

Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute supports educational and cultural activities that promote the understanding, transmission and instruction of Persian language and culture. Founded in 2000, the institute has awarded several million dollars in grants to establish or strengthen academic Persian programs at some of the most prestigious universities in the world. Mir-Djalali, who is the chair and president of Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, was born in Iran. She received a doctorate in linguistics from Paris-Sorbonne University and is an expert in language education, cross-cultural communication and Persian studies. Mir-Djalali also is recognized for her pioneering efforts in nurturing the next generation of Persian studies specialists. 

"We are delighted to partner again with the University of Arizona and establish this new professorship fully dedicated to the teaching of the Persian language," Mir-Djalali said. "We look forward to the naming of an outstanding pedagogue for this new endowed professorship, whose contributions will undoubtedly strengthen the UA's already-strong Persian and Iranian program."  

The grant will be amplified by the state-funded Eminent Scholars Program, designed to help attract and retain leading scholars. 

"Over the last year, the Eminent Scholars Program has amplified endowed support of faculty across the university," said John-Paul Roczniak, president and CEO of the University of Arizona Foundation. "It's exciting to see how the program is building research expertise in everything from pediatric disease to environmental science to cultural understanding. My thanks to Dr. Mir-Djalali and Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute for their visionary support of Persian language studies at the UA."

"The UA is home to one of the oldest and strongest Persian programs in the country," said Benjamin Fortna, director of the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies. "In addition to bolstering the university's scholarly depth in Iranian and Persian studies, the endowed position will provide the stability often missing from area studies programs, which can be vulnerable to sociopolitical changes and economic conditions."

"Everyone at the UA is incredibly grateful that Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute has once again invested in the University of Arizona," UA President Robert C. Robbins said. "Our Persian and Iranian Studies program is already recognized as one of the best in the nation. In our increasingly globalized world, the study of many languages and cultures is a vital component of a world-class education, and I look forward to seeing our Persian language program achieve even greater success with this generous gift."

Persian is considered a critical language by the U.S. government, which promotes Persian study as critical to the country's national security and economic prosperity. According to Lead With Languages, proficiency in Persian will make students more competitive for a variety of positions in government, business and education. Currently, the UA offers four levels of Persian to about 30 students each semester. 

Kamran Talattof, the Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Chair in Persian and Iranian Studies, said that having a full-time faculty member who can focus on Persian language teaching has been his goal since he joined the UA faculty in 2000. 

"The Persian language is a gateway into the culture," Talattof said. "Having a professor who can create a community of Persian language learners and who can guide students through different levels of proficiency will attract many more curious and bright students to our language courses." 

This is the third endowment Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute has established at the UA. The relationship between the organizations started about 17 years ago when Talattof met Mir-Djalali at a conference of the Middle East Studies Association. 

In 2003, Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute created an endowed fellowship fund in the UA School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies. The fellowship, funded by a $300,000 grant from the institute, goes to outstanding graduate students in Persian and Iranian studies.

The Roshan Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Persian and Iranian Studies established in 2016 includes funding for an endowed faculty chair and an endowed professorship — both already filled — as well as for programming activities and new master's and doctoral degree programs. 

"I am grateful to Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute for yet another transformative grant," said John Paul Jones III, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. "Being able to hire an endowed professor dedicated to Persian language instruction will enable us to catapult our already strong Persian program to the next level. This grant, combined with the previous grants Roshan has given, places the UA in the top echelon of universities in Persian and Iranian studies."