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For the archives:
By: Francis Sarguis
In Search of an Education Program
Ben, Thanks for Thinking of Us.
Finally, the six designated Assyrian organizations have received their share of the Benjamin S. Adams estate. Distribution totals $1,120,000, in the following proportions:
(1) Assyrian Foundation of America, Berkeley, CA - $280,000 (25%)
(2) Assyrian Aid Society (non-profit branch of Zowaa) - San Francisco $224,000 (20%)
(3) Assyrian National Federation - $168,000 (15%)
(4) Assyrian National Council of Illinois - $168,000 (15%)
(5) Assyrian Welfare Council, Chicago - $168,000 (15%)
(6) Assyrian Association of Southern California - $112,000 (10%)
Previous Kibitzer columns on this subject have inspired some unexpected correspondence. On the erroneous assumption that we have any control over project selection, several readers have volunteered specific suggestions on how the Adams funds ought to be spent. Others have urged closely monitoring how the funds are actually spent.
Behind the Green $$ Door: "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
For the record, readers should understand that only the directors of each of the above six groups are authorized to make any funding decisions. The Adams Will does not require the six groups to work with each other; nor does it require the directors of any of the six groups to consult or inform the Assyrian public. Ominously, at least four of the six groups have already revealed their fondness for "secrecy". They assume wrongly that the disposition of these monies is not a legitimate public question.
Of the six groups, only the Association of Southern California has revealed openness and a taste for democracy. Kibitzer has yet to see any indication from the other five that they are prepared to solicit the views of the Assyrian public for whose benefit the funds were left. Readers may recall that of the six groups, only two even bothered to respond to our previous
inquiry (the Association of Southern California; and the National Federation). Apparently, merely to ask general journalistic questions is considered by some of our "leaders" as "unfair", an "invasion of privacy", and a form of challenge or personal insult. Amid these stonewalls, perhaps none was more dismaying that that of the Assyrian Aid Society, making a
mockery of the principles implied in the name of its parent organization: Assyrian Democratic Movement.
Obsessive secrecy is not the invention of our modern-day Presidents and Directors. It is the legacy of an ancient system characterized by rigid hierarchy and cozy personal relationships, which more or less assumed a "we and they" mentality. There was one system in the mountains, another in the plains. But in either place, individual rights were rarely acknowledged. Views not in lockstep with the "higher ups" were considered hostile if not seditious. It was so for centuries.
Whatever its historic justification, this paternalistic style of leadership is unacceptable in today's world. It is foolhardy to bypass public opinion and spurn detailed accountability. We need to place a great deal of trust particularly in our young people. Many of them have studied Western political thought. Understandably, stonewalling for them signals skullduggery.
To get back to our correspondents, anyone seeking specific answers should direct his/her questions or comments to the President of each of the six organizations. In a previous column, Kibitzer provided the mailing address for each of these groups. Presumably, if your correspondence is addressed to "the President and the Board", your letter will then be presented to the
group's Board at its next meeting.
After the Form, There is the Substance
In connection with the Adams Will, we have said a great deal about the need for public accountability, and about the obligation to inform interested Assyrians. But we have yet to touch another serious dimension, which has to do with how Assyrian institutions should define the term "education", "schooling", and "refugee assistance." Both the financial windfall created by the late Benjamin Adams and, to a lesser extent, the generosity of the Youhanian family in donating a sizeable sum (entrusted to the Southern California Assocation) to the memory of their young son, give rise to a long-ignored question: How should our community order its priorities when it comes to distributing such funds? The assumption of this essay is that some of the Adams funds will go to "refugee assistance" (a future Kibitzer subject), but a good portion will also be earmarked for "schooling and education."
Good Intentions; Unfortunate Advice
Unfortunately, Benjamin Adams' Will reference to "Assyrian children's education and schooling," is vague and ambiguous. (This wording may have been provided to Adams by a well-meaning Assyrian who unfortunately failed to understand the nuances of the English language). There certainly should have been greater linguistic clarity (as we are about to note). But what is most important now is that the policy issue ( to which we will return below) must no longer be ignored.
What, exactly, is the linguistic issue, i.e., what does this Will mean by "Assyrian children's education and schooling"? Does this mean any children (Assyrian or non-Assyrian," who pursue Assyrian education and schooling? Which of these two words is the modifier: "Assyrian" or "children"?
The use of the word "children" also suggests an age range. But exactly what age range was contemplated? Age 4 to 12? "Children" normally excludes adults. Does the term include a twenty-year old? Does it exclude a teenager? Does it include pre-teens? All pre-teens?
There is further question in the phraseology "education and schooling". Did Adams intend to make a distinction between these two terms? If not, why did he use both terms? It would be helpful if the living Adams proxy, the individual who apparently provided much of the script for the Adams Will, would step forward and shed some light on this.
The ABC's of Advising the Next Assyrian Angel.
If Adams had received proper advice, what is the form his Will should have taken? Stated another way, if a rich Assyrian approached you, the reader, and solicited your advice on how to distribute his/her estate, what would be your suggestion?
As far back as one year ago, Kibitzer had received no less than some two dozen specific suggestions in the mail. Kibitzer's own view starts with the premise that the source of funds is always severely limited. Therefore, assuming one is acting with forethought, priorities must be considered, necessarily entailing variables such as the following.
There is the general issue of AGE GROUP targeting. For example: Pre-school? Early education? Primary and Secondary? Higher Studies? general public education?
There is the issue of GEOGRAPHY. If education assistance in the homeland (loosely, the Middle East) is part of our responsibility (which Kibitzer believes), there is probably justification for applying a somewhat different standard there than in the diaspora. Even with the broad-based diaspora, distinctions can be justified between those settled in the "have" countries, and those settled in the "have not" countries.
There is also the issue of OBJECTIVES, which obviously should be the engine that drives the entire process. How can limited funds be used to "get the biggest bang for the buck?" What is the wisest form of expenditure? Whom do we seek to benefit - a handful of individuals, or the body politic?
Our History of "Education" Support - Speak Loudly but Carry a Small Stick.
The history of student assistance by Assyrian organizations in the U.S. reveals an abject neglect of all these questions. Past practice (like the road to hell) was paved with good intentions. But it has been seriously-flawed and rudderless. It has dissipated , i.e., wasted, limited resources for no visible community benefit. In the name of "education," those who have distributed these funds helter-skelter have seriously impaired the development of a genuinely Assyrian "educated" class.
It is time to reconsider the "mom and pop" approach, and (for the first time) to focus on a vision. This will require extraordinary fortitude from very ordinary persons who will be loath to relinquish their authority. Keep in mind that many of these persons have egos well above the average, and not necessarily commensurate to their ability to act for the common good.
The present disarray of our "educational" programs is illustrated by a multitude of examples. Let us simply turn to an item in ZENDA (February 23, 1998) featuring the following announcement:
FINANCIAL AID FOR ASSYRIAN STUDENTS
If you are an Assyrian student studying at a four-year college or
university ZENDA urges you to apply for financial assistance to one of
these national Assyrian organizations and request a scholarship application:
Assyrian American National Federation, Education Committee, 4318 West
Birchwood, Skokie, IL 60076
Assyrian National Foundation, P.O. Box 2620, Berkeley, CA 94702
Chaldean Federation of America, 18470 W. 10 Mile Southfield, MI 48075
One can hardly argue with the veneer content of this announcement. Yet on closer examination, this hopeful message masks continuation of a barren policy. It is scandalous that over the past several years, various of our organizations have disbursed their scarce "education" funds without any coherent Assyrian educational objective?
All along, the key consideration should have been, and today it should be, the collective advancement of our people. In these terms, one individual's pursuit of education should not be a drain on the limited collective funds, unless that individual's education has a direct and probable correlation to the common cause.
While in past years the sums which have been squandered under the false name of "Assyrian education" have been trivial, suddenly six of our groups have come into sums unprecedented in their experience. It is the responsibility of all of our organizations, and of the Assyrian public, not merely of these six groups, to ascertain how these resources should be expended. Filled with both hope and anxiety, one skeptic noted: "This is a historical opportunity to lay a foundation for the future. We've never been in this position before."
Education for all who seek it? Yes, by all means. Any kind of education for all who seek it? Yes, but not at the expense of
Grow the U.S. GNP? Yes: Forbes 500 and Sinking the Ninevites!
Let us be clear on one point. The pursuit of education in any form by Assyrians should be encouraged and applauded. All of us rightfully share joy in the achievements of our community members, whether it is in the professions, the arts, or the world of commerce. It is a source of great pride to Kibitzer that San Jose has 150 engineers or more, that Chicago has 50 physicians and 60 attorneys, and that a number of Assyrians are now teaching subjects ranging from forestry to mathematics, and from American history to medical surgery. While this kind of achievement by Assyrian individuals enhances the image of our people in a generic way, it is simply an illusion to suppose that Assyrians who are well-educated and successful in the world at large will necessarily contribute to the general Assyrian cause.
Kibitzer's own high school class graduated three Assyrian professionals:
One a physician, and two attorneys. None of the three is literate in the mother tongue. By most measurements, all three achieved "career" success.Each is well-known and respected in the American community, but precious few in their communities even know of their Assyrian heritage. Each of the three married a non-Assyrian, and raised children who are healthy, successful, and illiterate in Assyrian.
Kibitzer has seen this scenario replay itself time and again. There is no reason to think that a "new consciousness" will now change the pattern. For this reason, Kibitzer urges serious rethinking.
PRINCIPLE ONE: Our "education" funds must be used in support of "Assyrian education", which emphatically is not the same as the "education of Assyrians." Assyrian community funds should not be awarded to individuals in a general course of study, whether in secondary school or in higher education. While such awards may be good public relations or ego-satisfying to the one who is doing the doling, they do not represent a sensible investment in our people.
If an Assyrian student is awarded a few hundred dollars because of dire financial need, this should be called what it really is, namely, an act of charity, not an educational incentive. If an Assyrian student is awarded a few hundred dollars solely because of his/her ethnicity, this is a misplaced gesture, unless the individual's studies are in some way community-enhancing. Every dollar that is distributed for such students is a dollar less available to students, Assyrian or otherwise, who wish to pursue Assyrian-relevant work.
PRINCIPLE TWO: We encourage everyone to pursue education as far as he/she can. We know from observation that those who achieve the greater academic goals will gain in personal stature, and will likely leave a greater mark on society. But there is no known correlation suggesting that the more educated an Assyrian becomes, the more he/she will become an asset to the Assyrian community. Paradoxically, there may be an opposite effect: The more educated an Assyrian becomes, the more rapidly he/she will merge into the dominant American culture, while the individual who remains anchored to the old ways tends to be more resistant to assimilation. This is certainly not to suggest that Assyrians should discourage their children from bettering themselves through education. But it also contradicts the implication that by providing money to a future doctor, lawyer, accountant or scientist, somehow we are "advancing the common cause."
PRINCIPLE THREE: "Assyrian education" has been totally ignored, and it is time to devote our scarce resources exclusively to this enterprise. Assyrian education has many needs, both in the homeland and in the diaspora. In the homeland, support to our students in almost any field is bound to be of positive value in strengthening our presence there (there already exists an inspiring example in the Assyrian Democratic Organization, where the European diaspora has an ongoing commitment to support students in the homeland). But in assisting students in the diaspora, we must be more discriminating, and for a change we must focus on some significant options.
PRE-SCHOOL AND PRIMARY LEVEL. Subsidize Assyrian language and cultural enrichment classes. The recent proposal for an Assyrian school in Turlock would seem an ideal goal.
SECONDARY LEVEL. Subsidize Assyrian language and cultural classes. Financial award for student achievement, but solely for Assyrian-related projects.
HIGHER EDUCATION. Provide funding commitments to individuals who choose to devote their study emphasis to an Assyrian subject, or a subject very likely to redound to the community interest. We cannot and should not expect to discourage Assyrians from pursuing their dream in any field of their choice, whether it is Assyrian-related or not. But there is a large class of bright individuals whose interests lie in such fields as sociology, politics, history, language, economics, anthropology, the arts
and even the sciences, where the study or the research has great potential as Assyrian-relevant. A few individuals from this pool might well take heart in the fact that the Assyrian community would stand behind them if they chose to accentuate an Assyrian dimension to their studies. The chances are great that following his/her studies, a person coming out of such a process would benefit the general Assyrian community, whether it is done through writings, through political work, through teaching, or in some other way.
For Once, Do the Right Thing.
Admittedly, doing the right thing involves a lot more thought, a lot more effort, and there is less occasion for an ego trip. It takes sober work to map out a program which allocates funds based on long-term community objectives. Funding an Assyrian school, bankrolling a doctoral fellowship on an Assyrian subject, assuming the full costs of an important new Assyrian publication, lobbying for a University chair in Assyrian studies --- these are deeds lacking the instant gratification to which our bursars have become accustomed. But these are the kinds of programs which can have a positive impact on the general welfare.
What is at issue in the end is not the integrity of our leaders, but their sagacity. None of their previous track record inspires confidence that they can administer this new found wealth in the best community-wide inte rest.
"Image is Everything"- - But What About the Bottom Line?
Some Assyrians who recognize the bankruptcy of past "student aid" think that reform can be brought about without much tinkering. Even if they are sympathetic to the idea of consolidation, they argue that one of the already existing groups should be utilized for this function. They should consider the following.
It is true that the 65-year old Assyrian American National Federation, senior among U.S. groups, has coast-to-coast representation. But more often than not, AANF has been plagued by mediocre leadership, and a clear absence of direction. It has revealed itself incompetent in public outreach as well as in political lobbying. Nothing better epitomizes its ineptitude than the puerile annual chautauquas it passes off as conventions. If AANF had performed according to its original design, there would be little need for this discussion. By now, it should have established the broad credibility needed to lead this kind of task. But it is hard to take seriously an organization which takes out full-page ads in its own magazine to publicize form letter snubs from invited dignitaries, and somehow inteprets this as subliminal success. In reality, it is far from certain whether the Federation has the wherewithal to properly manage its own 20% share of the Adams funds, much less that of the others.
The second group, the Assyrian Academic Society of Chicago, is located amid the largest Assyrian community in the diaspora. By virtue of its name and its general objectives, one would think it is ideally positioned to assert leadership in this matter. After all, what is more "academic" than to enunciate the ps and qs of a rational "Assyrian education" policy? That other Assyrian organizations do not turn to AAS for direction in matters of educational import is a commentary about the failure of all of them to get out of their own little sandbox. That the AAS membership is not a society of scholars is no excuse. At any given moment, there are promising students interested in pursuing advanced Assyrian studies instead of a degree in law or medicine, who are prime candidates for financial support. We do not know of a single case where AAS has stepped into that breach.
Kibitzer believes that all of the organizations should pool their "education" funds into a common pool, and these funds should be administered by a broad-based board, including among others representatives of each of the contributing groups and of the AAS. Based on broad consultation, such a board should map out a blue print for the best and most efficient use of our limited education funds.
Readers, Your Comments Please!
In conclusion, the aimless practice of feel-good "educational" aid needs to be replaced by a program designed to advance the Assyrian nation. Those who control our scarce community resources are required to administer them consistently with the public trust which has been placed in them, and with intelligent objectives. If they are unwilling or unable to perform this
solemn task, they should have the grace to admit it and let fresh new minds tackle the challenge.
No. 97-1 - Adams bequest
No. 97-2 - Adams bequest
No. 97-3 - Adams bequest
No. 97-4 - Adams bequest
No. 97-5 - Adams bequest
No. 97-6 - Adams bequest
Send your comments to : Francis Sarguis
By: Francis Sarguis
Benjamin the Munificent
"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." 1 Corinthians 13
It was at the State Convention in Pasadena in May 1995 that Kibitzer first learned of an Assyrian named Benjamin S. Adams. He had died in Tucson, Arizona, on April 12, 1995. The word was that he had left a large part of his estate to several Assyrian organizations, to be used for the "welfare and education" of our people.
Unlike other nationalities or ethnic groups, Assyrians do not have much of a philantropic history. If for no other reason, therefore, this angel deserves a very special salute for his evident Assyrian social consciousness.
Mr. Adams did receive some kudos via a cover story and pictorial featured in NINEVEH Quarterly (Third Quarter 1995, pp.4-7). Clearly, one hungers to learn more of this man's life and vision. but a more substantial biography is unlikely to appear. Hence, those wishing a general introduction to Mr. Adams should send for a copy of this publication at ;
Nineveh P.O. Box 2620, Berkeley, CA 94702.
My suggestion is that you enclose $10 with your request, to help cover costs of this unique Assyrian periodical.
Although early newsleaks about the Adams bequest were quite vague, visions quickly dangled in our head on the creative uses for such funds. But at that point, Kibitzer did not know the amount of the donation, nor the identity of those who had been entrusted with disbursing it.
In the past few months, several Assyrians have asked us questions on this subject. They too had vaguely heard of Adams' bequest. They assumed that with his legal background, we might provide them more details. These inquiries led us to take a closer look at Mr. Adams' unprecedented gesture. Recently, we obtained a copy of the Will which Benjamin Adams executed on December 5, 1994. Just a few weeks after making his Will, Mr. Adams also executed an amendment (called a "First Codicil") on January 16, 1995.
Kibitzer will address Mr. Adams' gift in greater detail in a subsequent column. For now, let's cover some basic points.
(1) The Will.
This is a statement which speaks as of the moment of death. As such, it is an instrument which can be revoked or amended so long as the Will maker is alive.
(2) The Codicil.
A person who makes a Will one day may want to change it the next day, or at any other time. The Will may be totally replaced with a new Will; or it may be "amended" or "supplemented" with a Codicil. When the Will is 14-pages long, as it is here, then it is usually simpler to amend it with a Codicil, which will be a shorter document.
(3) The Place Where the Will is Administered.
The administration of Wills is governed by the laws of each State, and not by federal law. In most states, the original copy of the Will (and of any "Codicil" which may exist) must be filed with the Clerk of the Court in the jurisdiction where the individual resided. Mr. Adams was a resident of Tucson (Pima County), Arizona. Hence, that is where his Will was filed.
(4) Once Filed, a Will is a Public Document.
Once a document such as a Will is filed, the public may inspect the original, and it may purchase photocopies of the original from the Clerk of the Court.
Normally, once a Will is filed with the Court, a legal process begins which is known as "probate". The person who initiates such a proceeding is the "executor" named in the Will. The probate permits the executor to pay all of the debts of the deceased, to discharge all tax obligations of the estate and, after paying all probate fees, to distribute the remainder of the estate according to the will of the deceased.
(6) Inventory & Appraisement.
The executor obtains an inventory of the estate, and the appraised value of all items. This must include not only cash and securities, but also real estate and personal items (such as furniture, etc.). The appraisement is necessary for the preparation of tax returns, to determine legal and administrative fees, and in making the final distribution.
The estate of Mr. Adams was appraised at $1,481,836. In the next column, we will examine how Mr. Adams directed for the distribution of this estate.
Previous articles :
1- SYRIA AND THE MIGHT THAT WAS (IS) ASSYRIAN
By: Francis Sarguis
Benjamin the Munificent Part 2
One might visualize the Adams estate in the shape of a pie sliced in three parts:
First part, Specific Bequests: The words "specific bequests" refer to an exact sum that is given, or to a specific property item that is given, whether it is to an individual or to an organization.
Second part, federal and state taxes; and professional fees and costs.
Third part, the Remainder. This consists of all that is left in the estate after payment of the specific bequests, and after the payment of taxes, fees and costs.
Let us touch here on the first of these three categories.
Many of the specific bequests consist of cash gifts. But there are also "in kind" gifts, such as the gift of real estate, carpets, and personal items. Specific bequests are made to 19 individuals, for a total value of $331,641. Specific bequests are also made to 10 organizations, for a total of $58,000.
Pima County real property to brother.
NOTE: This property has been appraised at $76,641
All furniture (except from living room), household goods and personal apparel to brother.
NOTE: Appraised value of these items not known to Kibitzer at this time
$100,000 cash to a longtime close friend.
$5,000 cash to each of three cousins.
$10,000 cash to each of two nephews.
$10,000 cash to a niece.
$10,000 cash to each of eight grandchildren of Thomas F. McLemore
$10,000 cash to each of the three grandchildren of Robert W. McLemore
Persian rugs to Carondelet Saint Mary's Hospital
NOTE: Appraised value of these items not known to Kibitzer at this time
Living room furniture to Sabbar Shrine Temple, Tucson
$10,000 cash to Square & Compass Children's Clinic, Tucson
$10,000 cash to Scottish Rite - University of Arizona Child Language Lab
$10,000 cash to Arizona Chapter, Order of DeMolay
$5,000 cash to Sabbar Shrine Temple, Tucson
$4,000 cash to American Legion, Tucson
$4,000 cash to Veterans of Foreign Wars, Tucson
$4,000 cash to Disabled American Veterans, Tucson
$5,000 to Assyrian Veterans Memorial Fund
$5,000 to Bet-Nahrain Organization, Modesto
The combined total of specific bequests to individuals and to organizations is $389,641. All of these bequests have now been paid by the Executor of the Will (in this case, he is also the attorney for the Will).
In an earlier column we noted that according to the appraisal filed with the Superior Court, the estate of Mr. Adams was valued at $1,481,836. Once we deduct the $389.641 for this slice of the pie, the approximae value of the remaining two slices is around $1,092,195.
Mr. Adams left the bulk of his estate - the so-called "Remainder", to six Assyrian organizations. In our illustration, this is the third slice of the pie. Clearly, it is in these six gifts of the "Remainder" that Mr. Adams expresses his concern for the Assyrian people.
But the second slice of this pie must first be ascertained. How much will there be in taxes, in administrative and legal fees, and in costs? Once these expenses are established, we can know more precisely the net amount which will be available for distribution as the "Remainder".
The six organizations entrusted by Mr. Adams to carry out his dreams and hopes are all Assyrian. He directed that the remainder of his estate should be distributed in the following proportions:
25% to the Assyrian Foundation (Berkeley, California)
20% to the Assyrian Aid Society (San Francisco)
15% to the Assyrian American National Federation (location inconstant)
15% to the Assyrian Council of Illinois (Chicago)
15% to the Assyrian Welfare Society (Chicago)
10% to the Assyrian Club of Southern California (North Hollywood)
The reader will recall earlier in this column that Mr. Adams left Specific Bequests of $5,000 each to two other Assyrian organizations, which he described as "charities". To those two, he did not leave instructions on how they should spend the funds.
On the other hand, as to the six organizations which will receive the remainder of his estate, he instructs each of them that the funds must "be used by such organization for Assyrian children's schooling and education and Assyrian refugee assistance".
Kibitzer has already received some predictable inquiries: What exactly does Mr. Adams me
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