CHICAGO— Philanthropists and businessmen Thomas and Timothy Pearson announced Wednesday that they are donating $100 million to the University of Chicago to establish a center dedicated to the study of global conflict.
The gift from the brothers’ family foundation, which in the past has helped underwrite the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, will establish what will be known as the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts within the university’s well-regarded Harris School of Public Policy.
With the gift, which is equal to the second biggest the university has received in its history, University of Chicago officials say they will be able to establish the first academic research institute and an annual forum devoted solely to the study and resolution of global conflicts.
“We simply made the determination that it was time to focus our efforts on a single cause or issue, and we can think of no single issue more important than trying to address global conflicts through the study and potential resolution of the same,” said Thomas Pearson, who is chairman of The Pearson Family Foundation, told USA TODAY.
The establishment of the institute comes as the U.S. and Europe have struggled to deal with the emergence of the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, and as conflicts in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East have spurred the most significant refugee crisis since World War II.
The United Nations estimates that 13.9 million individuals were displaced due to conflict or persecution in 2014, and nearly 60 million people worldwide are either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum.The brothers argue that non-state conflicts, with drug cartels and insurgent groups like ISIS, pose the most significant foreign policy challenge of our time.
Timothy Pearson said that he and his brother first began talks with the University of Chicago about 18 months ago. The family also considered as many as a dozen other universities in the U.S. and abroad, but ultimately decided that Chicago was the best suited to establish the institute.
The university was an attractive candidate to host the institute, because it has a track record of “analytic capacity in the social sciences,” said University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer.
“We’ve been a place very much focused on analysis rather than…soft belief,” Zimmer said. “This (the study of global conflict) is an area that has not received the rigorous look that many other areas of social sciences have received from the University of Chicago and other universities.”
The gift will allow the university to establish four professorships in the public policy school. Those professors will also hold appointments at The Pearson Institute. In addition, the university will create a fellows program for masters of public policy students and the Pearson Scholars program for Ph.D. students whose study focuses on global conflict.
The Pearson family gift is equal to the second biggest donation the university has received in its history.
In 2008, alumnus David Booth gave $300 million to the university’s graduate school of business, which was renamed the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In 2007, an anonymous donor gave the university $100 million to allow the university to reduce student loans for low and moderate income students over 15 years.
Follow USA TODAY Chicago correspondent Aamer Madhani on Twitter: @AamerISmad
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