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CU Establishes Kraft Family Fund for Interfaith and Intercultural Awareness

President Lee C. Bollinger has announced the establishment of the Kraft Family Fund for Interfaith and Intercultural Awareness. The fund will be used to support innovative programming initiated by students and the University that fosters open debate and civil discourse on a wide range of topics, including issues of race, religion and culture. The $1 million fund was created through a $500,000 gift from Trustee Emeritus Robert Kraft, CC'63, and his wife, Myra Kraft, and a matching contribution from the University.

In a letter to the Columbia community announcing the fund, Bollinger said, "Nothing is more important to the life of the University than having many forums for discussion and reflection on the ideas and issues of our time. The classroom is the primary place in the University for the exchange of ideas, but we all know how valuable it is to have other contexts in which to express ourselves and to hear the thoughts of others. When it comes to debating some of the most controversial, and perhaps even intractable questions of the moment, it is all the more important that we are able to do so in environments that sustain our commitment to civil discourse, critical inquiry, and academic freedom."

Bollinger continued, "Robert and Myra believe deeply in the University as a community of individuals who bring many different perspectives and life experiences to their teaching, learning and living together. I know that they want to encourage everyone at Columbia to find constructive ways to talk about the values we share and the ways in which our beliefs differ. I am grateful to the Krafts for this very thoughtful gift."

Robert Kraft said, " Myra and I know that issues that invoke passionate debate, especially those surrounding religion, culture, ethnicity and politics, for example, are often the issues that matter most. Far from avoiding these topics, Columbia has a unique and important role in fostering open discussion on these issues in a way that inspires dialogue that is respectful of different points of view. Columbia has always been a place for this kind of exchange, and we hope and believe that the Kraft Family Fund will lead to an even stronger and healthier campus environment."

The fund will support student-initiated programs designed to facilitate greater understanding among Columbia community members of diverse backgrounds and perspectives. These programs will build upon existing activities organized by various cultural, ethnic and religious student groups based in Earl Hall that are administered by the University chaplain. A nine-person committee composed of students and administrators and chaired by the University chaplain will administer the allocation of the fund to support student-initiated programs. The Office of the University Chaplain is now accepting funding proposals for the 2005-2006 academic year.

Examples of activities sponsored by the fund may include:

  • A roundtable discussion on how religious beliefs and cultural norms influence students from diverse racial, cultural and ethnic communities;
  • A screening and discussion of a movie, documentary or play that explores intersections and conflicts among groups with differing ethnic, cultural and religious compositions;
  • A symposium on integrating cultural and religious perspectives into teaching; and
  • A panel convening students, faculty, alumni and major speakers or recognized experts to explore ways to create constructive dialogue on highly charged issues.

"During my years at Columbia University, I have been consistently impressed by students' interest in interfaith and intercultural awareness and programming," said University Chaplain Jewelnel Davis. "Students in each school at the University are very inspired to educate themselves on some of the most important concerns facing women and men on campus, in our local communities and around the world. The Kraft Family Fund will provide our students with additional opportunities for discussing and exploring important issues so that we, as a University community, can continue to learn more about each other and from each other."

Fund-sponsored programming initiated by the University will be developed by a committee of distinguished faculty on behalf of the Offices of the President and Provost. The committee includes Carol Gluck, the George Sansom Professor of History and professor of East Asian languages and cultures; Eric Kandel, Nobel laureate and University Professor; Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism and Henry R. Luce Professor of Journalism; and Robert O'Meally, the Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature and director of the Columbia University Center for Jazz Studies. The committee will designate three current controversial issues each year for the University community to address. It also will determine appropriate programming that has a public component, including symposia, conferences or lectures, and other events that engage students through corollary activities.

Businessman and philanthropist Robert Kraft is best known outside Columbia as owner of the three-time Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. While an undergraduate at the College, he distinguished himself as a student, athlete and class leader. Kraft has become one of Columbia's most dedicated and involved alumni. A trustee emeritus, he served as a University trustee for two six-year terms, the maximum length of trustee service allowable. Kraft is also a principal benefactor of the Robert K. Kraft Family Center for Jewish Student Life, which was dedicated in 2000 and is one of his many contributions to the University. In November 2004, Kraft was awarded the Alexander Hamilton Medal, the highest tribute that can be paid to a member of the Columbia College community, in honor of his lifetime of service to Columbia.

For additional information, members of the media may contact Susan Brown at (212) 854-5573.

Published: Apr 21, 2005
Last modified: Apr 21, 2005

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