Philanthropic Updates from The University of Texas at Dallas

Ackerman Center Supporters Create Fifth Endowed Chair in Holocaust Studies

By Daniel Steele  |  August 3, 2020

Mitchell L. and Miriam “Mimi” Lewis Barnett have supported the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies for more than 20 years. Longtime friends of UT Dallas, the couple recently made a commitment to establish the center’s fifth endowed faculty position. The Miriam Lewis Barnett Chair will support world-renowned researchers in the study of the Holocaust, genocide and human rights.

“There is not another center that I can think of that has five endowed faculty positions in Holocaust Studies,” said Dr. Nils Roemer, director of the Ackerman Center and interim dean of the School of Arts and Humanities. “We will have five professors who can engage the Holocaust and its legacy in the broadest possible ways across the disciplines.”

Leah and Paul Lewis

Leah and Paul Lewis began the family’s legacy of support for Holocaust remembrance after World War II.

The 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, were instrumental in the construction of the Lewis Park of Memories at the Dallas Jewish Community Center and Paul was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve on the first United States Holocaust Commission.

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, currently held by Dr. Zsuzsanna Ozsváth. They served as co-chairs of the center’s first major fundraising event, An Evening with Zsuzsi 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.

“It is an overwhelming experience to be in the family of UT Dallas. My parents would be gratified to know that the future is in the hands of this wonderful community and family of UTD.” – Mimi Barnett

In a special virtual announcement celebrating the new endowment, Selly Belofsky, a member of the UT Dallas Executive Board and past chairman of the Ackerman Center Advisory Board, recalled the Barnett family’s impact and the ways in which this new endowed chair will support the Ackerman Center’s growth in years to come.

“It used to be that the Holocaust was not talked about, even survivors didn’t want to talk about it,” Belofsky said. “Paul [Lewis] understood the importance of remembrance, that the lessons of the Holocaust cannot be forgotten. Mimi and Mitch have picked up this mantle and carried it forward all these many years.”

During the celebration, Belofsky echoed a sentiment often expressed by Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, distinguished scholar in residence at UT Dallas and steadfast champion of the Ackerman Center.

“If you want to build a great university, you need great students,” Belofsky said. “To get great students you need great professors. Having endowed chairs for our Ackerman Center and scholarships for our students is the way the center has grown. The building blocks continue to be put in place by the Barnett family, and we cannot thank them enough for all they have done.”

In just three decades, the Ackerman Center has become a worldwide leader in research and education and an attractive destination for elite scholarship and advocacy. As the center and UT Dallas continue to grow in stature and impact, the faculty supported by the Miriam Lewis Barnett Chair will have opportunities to champion the cause of remembrance to a global audience.

“Personally I want to thank Mimi, Mitch and  the whole Barnett family,” said David B. Ackerman, chair of the Ackerman Center Advisory Board. “The leadership they have shown over the years has been fantastic. It’s generosity from people like them that makes a huge difference.”

With a progressive vision for greater expansion and innovation in the future, the Ackerman Center’s promise of continued importance and excellence made it a trusted recipient of the Barnetts’ generosity.

“It is an overwhelming experience to be in the family of UT Dallas,” Mimi Barnett said. “My parents would be gratified to know that the future is in the hands of this wonderful community and family of UTD.”