Tamil Chair Inc., and the Canadian Tamil Congress have signed an agreement with the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) to support the establishment of an endowed Chair in Tamil Studies at UTSC. Tamil Chair Inc. is a non-profit organization, registered in the state of Maryland (USA) and was created for the purpose of establishing Tamil Chairs in Universities. It has also succeeded in forming the first Tamil Chair at Harvard University.
Sivan Ilangko, the Chair of the UofT committee for the program spoke to TC about how they were able to achieve a huge milestone and what the program has in store for the future.
How did the idea for the Tamil Chair come about?
There was interest in the community for long time to create a Tamil Chair at the University of Toronto. As the fundraising goal for Harvard Tamil Chair reached its goal of $6 million, the then Executive Director of University of Toronto, reached out to me and in the resulting over 3 hour meeting we discussed the possibility of forming a Tamil Chair at the University of Toronto and the requirement of $3 million to create an endowed Chair in Tamil Studies. Following this meeting, Canadian Tamil Congress and Tamil Chair Inc. jointly signed the agreement with the University of Toronto on May 10, 2018 and officially launched the fundraising campaign on June 25, 2018.
Why is it important to preserve/promote the Tamil language?
Language is an integral part of Tamil identity. Possessing a tradition of literature that is more than 2,000 years old, Tamil is one of the longest-surviving classical languages in the world. At the same time, in a testament to its vitality and flexibility, it is also a modern language spoken by more than 80 million people in numerous countries around the world. As Tamils we are fully aware of how important it is for us a preserve and pass down our language to future generations, we also realize that it is equally important to advance the research and study of Tamil language.
What are key milestones you’ve reached?
The signing of the agreement with the University of Toronto to establish a Chair in Tamil Studies was in itself a milestone. On the day of the Campaign launch, we raised $700,000 which is the highest amount ever raised in a single event at UTSC. Furthermore, the Tamil community is the first community to come together to establish an endowed chair for their mother tongue in Canada. In addition, Tamil Chair is the first donor funded endowment fund at UTSC. In many ways establishing a Chair in Tamil Studies at the University of Toronto is historical.
Who are the key organizations and individuals that made achieving your targets possible?
The Canadian Tamil Congress and Tamil Chair Inc. spearheaded the fundraising. There are number of community organizations, school old students’ associations, village associations, university alumni group, temples, artists, community media, individuals and business that supported the fundraising initiatives.
What are some major obstacles you’ve overcome to meet your fundraising targets?
Initially, we had to create awareness within the community about the Tamil Chair campaign. Thereafter, organizing fundraising events and identifying donors also required some efforts. The Covid outbreak slowed down the campaign efforts initially however, after a delay in the beginning of the Pandemic, we started organizing number of virtual events which really helped to reach the wider Tamil community on a global basis and ensured that Tamils all over the world had an opportunity to contribute.
What’s next? What future goals do you have for the program?
We have to agree on the activities of the Tamil Chair with the University. Now that we have raised the required $3 million, the University will shortly commence the process to recruit a professor. We expect to continue our engagement with the University and provide our assistance and suggestions in the continuing operations of the of the Tamil Chair.
How does this program add value to the community?
The Tamil Chair at the University of Toronto is the first of its kind in Canada and it is expected to bring the following benefits:
Championing the memorialization and preserving Tamil heritage and culture
Advancement of Tamil language research and education
One of the global focal points for Tamil scholars to find information, have discussions and hold conferences
Establish a pathway for those who pursue higher studies in Tamil as well as provide resources for established Tamil scholars in their research efforts into the language.
In addition to post secondary teaching of Tamil and Tamil studies, we would like to include as part of the Tamil Chair’s objectives, a Certificate in Tamil/Tamil Studies program that would be available to the community either online or in class.
It is hoped that the Tamil Chair would collaborate with other Tamil studies programs, particularly Tamil Chairs in North America, and in other parts of the world to make this program truly transnational.
These will further enhance the international recognition of the Tamil language.
The opportunity for the community to establish a Chair in Tamil Studies at the University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus is of great historical significance. It allows the University, to develop and enhance its teaching and research in Tamil Studies in perpetuity and to recruit faculty members from among the best scholars in the world.
How do you plan to engage the younger generation in the west who might be more out of touch with their Tamil roots? How about non-Tamils?
Our younger generation played an integral part in the campaign. In fact, most of the artists who performed at various fundraising events on a volunteer basis are from this generation. In addition to performing on a voluntary basis, they also donated money from their personal savings. We also engaged children, with the support of their parents in the Campaign who took part in fundraising activities and donated their own money, thereby establishing a connection with the Tamil Chair which we hope will continue. We hope to see non- Tamil students pursue Tamil studies at the University of Toronto.
What does your fundraising success reflect about the philanthropic efforts of the Tamil community?
The Toronto Tamil Chair campaign is a great example of working together for a common goal. A very large number of people from all ages came together to support this historical initiative regardless of religious and political differences. This was a primary reason for its success. It is important as a community to understand the value of a project and find a way to work together. We also realized that there are numerous people within the Tamil community who want to support the promotion of Tamil language and studies and other similar noble causes.