Faculty Spotlight

Professor Dowla honored with Landers Chair

Professor Dowla honored with Endowed Chair for Exceptional Scholarship and commitment to students

(St. Mary’s City, MD) Feb. 5, 2009 –In recognition of his scholarship, commitment to students and classroom teaching, St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) Professor of Economics Asif Dowla, Ph.D., has been named holder of the Hilda C. Landers Endowed Chair in the Liberal Arts. Dowla has taught at SMCM for 17 years. The Landers Chair honors a faculty member whose accomplishments in the liberal arts have set him or her apart from academic peers. It is awarded to a scholar who supports and enriches the college’s fundamental courses in the arts and letters, as well as in a particular area of specialization. Dowla is co-author of The Poor Always Pay Back: The Grameen II Story, a well-reviewed book about the Nobel Prize-winning Grameen Bank. The book is in its second printing and has been translated into several languages.

In announcing Dowla’s selection, SMCM College President, 1996-2009 Jane Margaret “Maggie” O’Brien paid tribute to his early involvement with Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, the first in the world to issue microcredit loans to the world’s poorest people to start their own businesses. “As a student at Chittagong University in Bangladesh, Asif took part in outreach efforts with several villages, and thus began the work that led him to the important conclusion that the poor always pay back. During the 1970s, he and a few colleagues continued their work through the Grameen Bank, helping to launch one of the world’s most important economic experiments,” said O’Brien. “…Such an economist, thinking in human terms, might also make a marvelous teacher. Such is the case with Asif Dowla. The human value behind each student’s ideas and comments is as clear to him as any economic theory.

"I am honored and feel privileged that the college has chosen me for this prestigious chair,” Dowla said. After graduating from Chittagong University in 1978, Dowla moved to the United States for post-graduate studies. He received a doctorate in 1986 from Southern Methodist University and joined the SMCM faculty in 1991.

The Poor Always Pay Back: The Grameen II Story has been translated into Chinese, French and Bahasa Indonesian. Co-author Dipal Barua and economist Muhammad Yunus are co-founders of the bank. The book is required reading for graduate and undergraduate courses at Harvard, Princeton and Duke universities, and at the Norwegian School of Management. In his review of the book for the Small Enterprise Development Journal, Professor Geoff Wood, dean of humanities and social sciences at the University of Bath, United Kingdom, recommended that “pro-poor bankers, supportive policy leaders of governments and policy-oriented academics and students…have this book on their shelves.”

Dowla’s mentor, Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering banking initiatives, started the Grameen Bank after giving $27 to poor villagers to help them out of poverty, thus launching the global microcredit movement.

The Landers Chair was established through the generous support of the Arthur E. Landers Jr. and Hilda C. Landers ’23 Charitable Trust. Distinguished Professor of the Humanities and former Poet Laureate of Maryland Lucille Clifton held the endowed chair until her retirement in 2008.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland, designated the Maryland state honors college in 1992, was founded in 1840 as Maryland’s “monument school” commemorating the state’s first capital. It is the state’s only public honors college, offering “an Ivy-level College with a public-school price tag” (Newsweek).

Some 2,000 students attend the college, which has the highest graduation rate for all Maryland public colleges and universities, and an SAT average for student admissions of 1252. The school’s waterfront campus along the St. Mary’s River in Southern Maryland is home to the 2007 National Intercollegiate Sailing Association Women’s, Sloop and Team champions.

Photo: Dr. Asif Dowla, St. Mary’s College professor of economics and holder of the Hilda C. Landers Endowed Chair in the Liberal Arts.