The endowed chair is named after Hardit Singh’s son, Sarabjit Singh, who died of cancer nearly 12 years ago. He was 35. In his memory, Hardit Singh donated $250,000 at that time but spent nearly a decade struggling with administrative bureaucracy. The endowment was transferred from the university where it was initiated to UC Santa Cruz. Hardit Singh said he does not remember the original university where the endowment was created.
UC Santa Cruz’s Web site describes the potential chair holder as "...a distinguished member of the humanities faculty and will support research and teaching about the Sikh community from a multicultural and global perspective, including, but not limited to foci on gender, Diaspora, and literary, historical, and cultural studies.”
Not much is known about the new chair holder, Nirvikar Singh, other than his academic background in economics. His resume and publications are online at the university’s Web site.
Nirvikar Singh is in India at this time and will return late next week. The university and the Sikh Foundation in Palo Alto, California, which established the endowed chair at the university, is preparing a news release with a statement from Nirvikar Singh about his background in Sikh studies, said Liz Sandoval, the university’s development director. This is the fourth endowed chair established by the Sikh Foundation.
Hardit Singh, the largest financial contributor to the endowed chair, is a civil and structural engineer who, in 1985, founded South Texas Engineering, Inc., in San Antonio, Texas.
“When my son passed away we donated in this money,” he said, from his office. “I was emotionally moved.” A friend had convinced him that an endowed chair was a good thing to do in his son’s memory. He then worked with Narinder Singh Kapany, head of the Sikh Foundation, to make it happen.
“I though this would teach many people Punjabi and Sikh history,” he said. “We thought it was a good cause, lets do it.
“I hope it does good to the Sikhs that (students have this opportunity of) knowing Sikh history, literature, religion and especially the Punjabi language,” Hardit Singh said. “(But) honestly, I have no experience with Sikh chairs.”
Over the years Hardit Singh met three or four times with Gurinder Singh Mann who was the first Sikh endowed chair holder in 1998 and holds the Kundan Kaur Kapany Chair of Sikh Studies at the University of California in Santa Barbara. He talked to Gurinder Singh about his academic work, and also attended one of his lectures.
“My feeling was that he knows what he’s talking about, he talks and acts like a gentleman,” Hardit Singh said. “He’s a good guy.
“But what good these chairs are doing, I don’t know,” he added. “I can’t tell by just attending one class.” But he hopes that the new endowed chair program will be very similar to Gurinder Singh’s program at UC Santa Barbara.
The only other Sikh studies professor that seems to be doing well, he said, is Balbinder Singh Bhogal, Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies at Hofstra University in New York.
“We’ll see how things go,” he added. “At this stage I do not know what is going to happen. We still have to see the results and the goodness of what is done.”
Hardit Singh plans to personally see the progress of the endowed chair program at UC Santa Cruz. He said he might sit in on Nirvikar Singh’s lectures.
He will meet with Nirvikar Singh in March 2011 at the formal initiation ceremony at the university. His granddaughter, Kavaljeet Kaur, now 12, will also be there.
“We brought her when she was six months old,” he said. “She’s a bright girl and a good kid. We want her to do the ceremony for her Dad.”