The University of Toronto has received an anonymous gift of $5 million to endow the Richard Charles Lee Directorship of the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs and launch the Asian Pathways Research Lab.

The gift, announced on Sept. 25 at a celebration event, is named in honour of the late Richard Charles Lee, who was trade ambassador for Hong Kong and served on the governing councils of the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “I think it is more than fitting that it’s named for my father, particularly because he believed that the 21st century is the Asian century, even though he never lived to see it,” said Senator Vivienne Poy, Lee’s daughter and a former Chancellor of U of T.

Since its founding in 2001, the Asian Institute has become Canada’s largest academic centre focused on Asia and an authoritative voice on social, cultural and political trends in one of the most significant regions of the world. With funding made possible through the gift, the Institute will expand its reach and influence and accelerate its development of innovative teaching, research and engagement methods.

“Students in our undergraduate major will benefit from a newly enhanced curriculum with a significant experiential component, allowing them to conduct primary research in Asia and on Asian topics closer to home,” said Professor Joshua Barker, the former Director of the Asian Institute who is now Vice-Dean of Graduate Education and Program Reviews at U of T’s Faculty of Arts and Science. He is also founder and project convener of the Asian Pathways Research Lab. “Graduate students will be integrated into a community of interdisciplinary scholars working on Asia, and will get new support for their Asia research endeavours.”

The Asian Pathways Research Lab, to be part of the Munk School’s Asian Institute, will focus on Asian migration and mobility as seen through Asian life histories and experiences. By collecting oral histories and conducting ethnographic field research, student researchers will be trained in qualitative research methods through a new fourth-year course within the Contemporary Asian Studies program and will be prepared to work on the Lab’s ongoing research projects. As it continues to “facilitate research and the dissemination of results, the Lab will establish and maintain ongoing collaborations with a range of partners at the city, national and international levels,” said Barker.

Students will be given assistance with ethics protocols, travel support and contacts with community partners as they acquire new historical and social understandings of Asian mobility.

The student, faculty and community-based research will also provide U of T instructors the opportunity to integrate primary research on Asian topics into their course curricula. Data collected by the Lab will be made available to researchers in a digital archive and to the public through selections and summaries.

“This extraordinary gift to establish the Richard Charles Lee Directorship will create a constant hum and excitement about student research activity in the corridors of the Asian Institute, which in turn will attract new kinds of engagement from the community at large,” said Joseph Wong, Interim Director of the Asian Institute and the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professor of Innovation.

“The Munk School is delighted to welcome the Asian Pathways Research Lab and its mission to explore migration and mobility issues, which are of crucial importance in our globe today,” said Professor Stephen Toope, Director of the Munk School of Global Affairs. “I add my thanks for this generous donation that will enable the Munk School to strengthen its teaching, student experience and research in Asian studies.”

Read more about this gift in The Varsity and U of T News.