Barnett family’s major gift establishes UTD Center’s 5th chair
By Phil Roth
University of Texas at Dallas
A major gift to the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies at The University of Texas at Dallas will create its fifth endowed chair, propelling the center to the top tier of Holocaust research programs in the country.
The Miriam Lewis Barnett Chair for studies related to the Holocaust, genocide and human rights was established by longtime supporters of the center, Mitchell L. and Miriam “Mimi” Lewis Barnett.
“I am thrilled that the Barnett family has once again recognized the importance of the work we are doing at the Ackerman Center,” said Dr. Nils Roemer, director of the Ackerman Center and interim dean of the School of Arts and Humanities. “There is not another center that I can think of that has five endowed faculty positions in Holocaust Studies.”
The Barnett family’s history of support for Holocaust remembrance began with Mimi Barnett’s parents, Leah and Paul Lewis, who began promoting the cause after the end of World War II. The couple sponsored a series of national memorials and were instrumental in the construction of the Lewis Park of Memories at the Dallas Jewish Community Center. Paul Lewis was appointed by former President Jimmy Carter to serve on the first President’s Commission on the Holocaust in 1978.
The Barnetts have carried on their family’s mission through several monumental gifts to the Ackerman Center. In 2002, the couple established the center’s first endowed faculty position, the Leah and Paul Lewis Chair of Holocaust Studies. They also served as co-chairs of the center’s first major fundraising event in 2016, and in 2018 endowed the Mitchell L. and Miriam Lewis Barnett Lecture Series as part of the Ackerman Center’s Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches.
Roemer, who is also the Stan and Barbara Rabin Professor in Holocaust Studies, said that endowed positions attract faculty at the top of their fields and enable the center to be a leader in research and education on the Holocaust and human rights issues.
The Holocaust is not just studied by a single type of scholar, such as a historian, but by academic scholars across disciplines, he said.
“Having five endowed faculty positions will allow us to cover and engage the Holocaust and its legacies in the widest possible ways across the different disciplines by bringing five professors and their respective fields of expertise together,” Roemer said.
Because the Ackerman Center sits within an interdisciplinary school, he said, students studying the Holocaust receive a well-rounded education from the various perspectives of history, literature, philosophy and art.
Besides the endowed chair held by Roemer, Dr. David Patterson, professor of literature and history, holds the Hillel A. Feinberg Distinguished Chair in Holocaust Studies, and Dr. Amy Kerner, assistant professor in Holocaust and human rights studies, joined the Ackerman Center faculty this fall as the Fellow of the Jacqueline and Michael Wald Professorship in Holocaust Studies.
Until recently, the Leah and Paul Lewis Chair of Holocaust Studies was held by Dr. Zsuzsanna Ozsváth, professor of literature and history who retired Sept. 1. Roemer said the fifth endowed chair raises the visibility of the center in a significant way.
“We now have five endowed chairs, the endowed Burton C. Einspruch Holocaust Lecture Series, and the Annual Scholars’ Conference. In addition, we bring in a number of experts from abroad, and we are graduating high-quality Ph.D. scholars,” he said. “We are close to having the full package of a fully functioning research and educational Holocaust studies center.”
Roemer said there is always opportunity for new programs and more growth for the center, particularly in the area of online education.
“We have four Holocaust museums plus the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission all in one state. So, there’s a lot of need to educate people who do that work in El Paso, San Antonio and Houston. But we cannot expect that all of them will come to Dallas to study. Our next big mission is to create a master’s degree in Holocaust education and offer it online,” Roemer said.
Dr. Inga Musselman, UT Dallas provost, vice president for academic affairs and the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Chair of Academic Leadership, said the five endowed chairs, the growth of doctoral graduates, and the expansion of its teaching and public programs have clearly established the Ackerman Center as a leader in Holocaust scholarship.
“This center at UT Dallas has become renowned for its scholarly work on the Holocaust, genocide and human rights. This is true not only in the academic arena, but also in the community,” she said. “Those who support the center and have generously built this center through endowments and other donations know the importance of these topics today and in the future.”