First cohort of students at the University of Houston. / Image - Twitter/@cgihou
Classes in Tamil Studies have begun for the first cohort of students at University of Houston in accordance with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and the University of Houston (UoH) Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in June 2023. The classes are taught by Dr. Vijayalakshmi, a visiting professor of Indian Studies.
Manjunath Chenneerapa, Consul General of India in Houston, UoH's dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, the director of Indian Studies, and representatives from both UoH and the Houston Tamil Studies Chair attended the commencement ceremony.
The collaboration between UoH and ICCR is made possible by the MoU, which established the ICCR chair of Indian Studies, which will be held by a visiting scholar from India with expertise in Tamil studies beginning in the fall of 2023.
The visiting professor would educate students, collaborate on research, and deliver public presentations to promote Tamil culture. With over 80 million speakers globally, the Tamil language is one of the world's oldest languages. Notably, the United States is home to nearly 300,000 Tamil-Americans.
UoH president Renu Khator, the first Indian immigrant to lead a comprehensive research university in the United States, said, “We are grateful to the Indian Council for Cultural Relations for this collaboration that will surely strengthen the cultural ties between our two countries. Expanding the University’s international footprint enhances the educational experience for our students, and prepares them for success on the global stage.”
UoH joined only two other American universities, Rutgers University and the University of Pittsburgh, in ICCR’s global Indian chairs Abroad program. Dan O’Connor, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, emphasized the visiting professor's role as a bridge between cultures.
He added, “India is not only a modern, global hub of business and culture, it’s an ancient hub as well that’s rich in history, literature and architecture going back millennia. It’s important to preserve that heritage through partnerships like this for tomorrow’s global leaders, some of whom we are teaching right here at UH.”
In 2019, the nonprofit organization Houston Tamil Studies Chair, Inc. pledged $2 million to UoH, leading to the establishment of an endowed chair in Tamil studies. The Mutyala family also donated $250,000 to establish the Sita and Bhaskara Rao Mutyala Endowed Professor of India Studies, currently held by Sarasij Majumder.