Honouring ‘54 great years:’ The McMaster legacy of Atif Kubursi

Atif Kubursi speaking into a microphone at a podium

The Dr. Atif A. Kubursi Scholarship Symposium, held on May 3 in the L.R. Wilson Concert Hall, served as a celebration of the contributions Kubursi has made to academia, education, economics and foreign policy, and to profile a new scholarship in the professor emeritus’ name.  

Nearly five and a half decades after Atif Kubursi began his McMaster career in the Department of Economics, approximately 80 family, friends, colleagues, students and alumni gathered in L.R. Wilson Hall to celebrate the legacy of a most-beloved teacher and scholar. 

They were there to celebrate the contributions Kubursi has made to academia, education, economics and foreign policy, and to profile a new scholarship in the professor emeritus’ name.  

The Dr. Atif A. Kubursi Scholarship will support undergraduate students in either economics or the Arts & Science Program who achieve academic success and demonstrate leadership and altruistic service. The scholarship is funded through the generosity of nearly 60 donors who contributed more than $75,000 to endow the award. 

The event offered a collection of heartfelt opening remarks followed by a panel discussion on sustainable development — a key focus of Kubursi’s career — and a keynote address from the honoree himself. 

Symposium moderator Matthew Agarwala ’09 ‘11, a former student of Kubursi’s and an economist at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge and with the Tobin Center for Economic Policy at Yale University, said to his mentor, “There are so many people who contributed to making this scholarship happen and every single one of them had the same idea behind it. They wanted to ensure that there is always a student here at McMaster who benefits from your legacy.” 

Four people standing on a stage smiling and posing for a photo
Opening remarks for the symposium honouring Kubursi (second from the left) were given by: Jeremiah Hurley, the dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences (not pictured), Marc-André Letendre, chair, Department of Economics, Matthew Agarwala ’09 ’11, economist, and Beth Marquis ‘02, director, Arts & Science Program.

The panel discussion, moderated by Jevan Cherniwchan, the Spencer Family Professor of Economics at McMaster, featured Lina Brand Correa, an assistant professor in York University’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, Member of Parliament Matthew Green for Hamilton Centre, and John Ohiorhenuan ‘75, a professor and distinguished fellow from the Department of Economics at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria.  

In a wide-ranging conversation about sustainable development, two-time McMaster graduate Ohiorhenuan described what it was like to take a class from Kubursi decades earlier, claiming that as a teacher, Kubursi could, “make linear algebra sound like poetry.” 

Four people seated in discussion
(From left to right) John Ohiorhenuan ‘75, Lina Brand Correa, Matthew Green and Jevan Cherniwchan.

While the theme of sustainable development unified the discussion, the three panelists explored topics including participatory democracy, economic planning, inequalities, policy making, grassroots movements, collaboration, democratic innovation, the solidarity economy, privatization and many others.  

The questions from the audience revealed a range of engaged participants from first-year Mac students to scholars and economists from other institutions. 

Atif Kubursi and Matthew Agarwala in discussion
Atif Kubursi and Matthew Agarwala ’09 ‘11

Kubursi’s keynote address explored central issues of sustainable development in addition to a call to action as he warned of, “the catastrophic consequences if we ignore the environment.” 

Characteristically, though, he devoted significant time to his former students. Calling his time at McMaster “54 great years,” he praised the consistent excellence of the students he taught, citing some of the prominent roles they have assumed as alumni.

“We graduate some of the brightest and we are very proud of them,” said Kubursi. “I am thankful that they have been our students.” 

That generosity to students was unsurprising to Agarwala who was one of leaders in organizing both the symposium and the fundraising campaign to establish the scholarship.  

“Dr. Kubursi didn’t just teach us about economics, he showed us how to beeconomists, to deploy our education in service of the public good, and to deliver McMaster’s mission,” Agarwala said. “Reflecting the gratitude and admiration felt by his students, colleagues and friends around the world, the Dr. Atif A. Kubursi Scholarship ensures that McMaster students will always benefit from our friend and mentor.” 

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