The College of William & Mary has received a gift from His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Sultan of Oman, to establish the Sultan Qaboos bin Said Professorship in Middle East Studies, officials announced Monday.
The Sultan’s gift establishes a fully funded, endowed professorship that will help to support the faculty’s wide-ranging teaching and research on aspects of Middle Eastern culture, and caps this fall’s introduction of the newly designed, multidisciplinary Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Program.
William & Mary President Taylor Reveley and Her Excellency Dr. Rawiyah bint Saud al-Busaidiyah, Minister of Higher Education, signed the agreement Monday during a special ceremony in the Blue Room of the College’s historic Sir Christopher Wren Building. The Omani delegation also included Her Excellency Hunaina Sultan al-Mughairy, Ambassador to the United States.
“This gift is simply marvelous,” Reveley said at Monday’s event. “Today, we celebrate the Sultan’s commitment to higher education and our mutual efforts to enhance and extend global cultural heritage for the benefit of all peoples. William & Mary is enormously grateful for the Sultan’s transformative generosity. We look forward to the continuing achievements of our faculty and students in the important area of Middle Eastern studies.”
Throughout Monday’s event, William & Mary faculty and students performed music representing the Omani culture and the country’s history.
The Omani delegation was welcomed in the Wren Building by the William & Mary Faculty Brass Quintet, led by Director of Bands Paul Bhasin. The quintet performed “Fanfare for His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said,” which was composed for the occasion by Music Professor Greg Bowers.
At a celebration luncheon in the Great Hall following the official signing, the William & Mary Middle Eastern Music Ensemble performed traditional Arabic music, including “Batal al-Bab (Unlock the Door)” and “Tawasal al-Hidhari (The Persistence of Civilization)” – both pieces from Oman. Professor Anne K. Rasmussen, who directs the ensemble, learned the Omani pieces during recent trips to Oman as the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center Research Fellow. She noted Monday’s performance included Omani music played on traditional instruments – a first for the United States.
The new endowed professorship at William & Mary, which will “encourage the depth and breadth of international education across the broad range of subjects encompassed by the study of Middle East Studies,” is the latest in a number of efforts by His Majesty the Sultan to preserve the heritage of Oman and promote international understanding and partnership through scholarship and research. This is the 16th Sultan Qaboos professorship established at leading universities around the world. Recipients include Leiden University, Holland, with which the College has a long-established faculty-exchange program; Peking University, Tokyo University, and the University of Melbourne; Oxford and Cambridge universities; and, in the United States, Harvard and Georgetown universities.
“This professorship will make an enormous contribution to the College’s ongoing efforts to promote greater international knowledge and understanding,” said Stephen Hanson, Vice Provost for International Affairs and Director of the Reves Center for International Studies. “We are truly grateful to His Majesty the Sultan for this generous gift to Middle Eastern studies, which will do so much to deepen our students’ understanding of the history and culture of this crucial world region.”
In remarks concluding the event, Gene Tracy, interim Dean of Arts & Sciences, said, “This is a deeply meaningful gift for us. While William & Mary is an ‘ancient’ college by American standards, this gift connects us to a far more ancient civilization and learning tradition. I am mindful that many of the stars in the sky have Arabic names, and that the very words ‘algorithm’ and ‘algebra’ hearken back to a time when Europe was dark and the Middle East was alight with intense intellectual activity. It is fitting that with your generous gift the College and the Sultanate of Oman join together to carry forward the flame of knowledge and learning.”
Tracy credited the vision of H.M. the Sultan and H.E. al-Busaidiyah, the long-time friendship and support of Lois Critchfield, the scholarship and relationships developed by the College’s faculty, and the leadership of Carl Strikwerda, Tracy’s predecessor as Dean of Arts & Sciences.
As a special commemoration, Tracy presented the Omani delegation with a presentation score of the “Fanfare for His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said,” signed by the composer.