On Wednesday morning, a packed Mandel Hall awaited the announcement of “a significant and wide-ranging initiative to confront the new era of global conflicts.” Shortly after taking the stage, President Robert Zimmer told the crowd that the University had received a $100 million gift to establish The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts and The Pearson Global Forum, both part of the Harris School of Public Policy.
Brothers Thomas and Timothy Pearson—the former is chairman and the latter president and CEO of The Pearson Family Foundation—made the donation, equal to the second-largest gift in the University’s history. It is eclipsed only by David Booth’s $300 million gift in 2008.
The brothers explored various options before settling on the University of Chicago for their donation. “We looked at, all due respect, 10 to 12 universities,” Thomas said.
Zimmer’s reply, “You made the right decision,” was met with an enthusiastic round of applause.
The new institute will have three primary focuses: researching violent conflicts, engaging the international policy and academic communities on conflict-reduction, and educating the next generation of scholars and practitioners in this field through new courses and programs.
The institute will use data-driven analysis to study conflict and refugee problems. It will also convene policymakers, professors, students, and researchers annually at The Pearson Global Forum.
“The study of global conflicts is a field ripe for groundbreaking research approaches, and The Pearson Institute will seek to inform more effective policy solutions for resolving violent conflicts to make a lasting impact around the world,” said Zimmer.
The Maroon sat down before the event with Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and one of the distinguished speakers of the morning. He discussed the need for American universities to place greater emphasis on the study of global conflict.
“We are four percent of the world’s people in this country,” Haass said. “The rest of the world will matter fundamentally in your life…You’re going to be in a position to make some changes in the world and I believe that Americans need to be prepared for that, they need to be tooled up for that. With very few exceptions America’s universities aren’t doing that. And that needs to change.”
Throughout the event, the speakers reiterated the importance of studying and resolving global conflicts, citing the ongoing migration crisis as evidence of this need.
“There is no more important challenge of our time,” said Thomas Pearson. “Waiting is not an option.”
Daniel Diermeier, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy and another speaker at the event, highlighted this urgency as well.
“For too long conventional methods have been applied to unconventional problems with little impact,” he said. “We must move beyond the old ways of thinking to confront the new challenges of global conflicts.”
After the event, Diermeier spoke with *The Maroon* and elaborated on the aptness of the Pearsons’ selection.
“As we have thought about the institute and how it was designed, it’s a perfect fit for what the University of Chicago is all about—the commitment to rigorous inquiry, but with a focus on having an impact, as well.”
For the Pearson brothers, the drive to work towards a more peaceful global society is deeply rooted. Timothy Pearson recalled one summer from his childhood during which a message arrived at the Pearson home bearing the words “The Klan is watching.”
The brothers later discovered that their father spent that summer in the Deep South registering black voters and participating in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.