A story and a legacy

15 Dec 2021

Dr Myint Zan, a proud ANU Law alumnus based in Myanmar, has been giving generously to ANU since 2018 through the creation of student prizes and early-career research grants in Law and Philosophy, as well as the newly-established Annual Myint Zan Lecture in Law and Philosophy.

He has recently confirmed a bequest to ANU to support students and early-career researchers from a diverse range of fields - including law, sciences, the humanities and social sciences - to be fulfilled according to the University's greatest need at the time.

Helping disadvantaged students and supporting research with positive societal impact are two key features of Dr Zan's intended bequest. He tells his ANU story here:

"I completed a Master of International Law on scholarship at ANU, from March 1980 to August 1981. I have studied at three Australian universities and Michigan Law School, and taught at two other Australian universities. I have given philanthropically to ANU and Michigan and to my late parents' alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Medicine, where they studied in the 1950s. Fortuitously, however, it was ANU that provided the scholarship that launched my early career. I have always remained grateful for this support, and my hope is that my bequest to ANU will 'pay it forward' many times over.

My postgraduate studies actually started at Monash University. In those days, under the Whitlam Government, it was much more affordable for both domestic and foreign students to study in Australia. However, the strict policies of the then-Burmese socialist regime posed many challenges for private students who wanted to study abroad. Many like myself had to pay "advance income tax" on a supposed future salary before being issued with a passport.

I was welcomed at Monash, and worked part- time, but was later offered a scholarship at ANU. The Sub-Dean of Monash Law, Francine McKniff, kindly wrote that she was 'sorry to lose me from Monash', but understood the financial realities for students. I was surprised and delighted to later discover that Francine herself left a major bequest to the Monash Faculty of Law.

ANU is one of the top universities in Australia - and indeed, the world - and I am proud to be an alumnus. I fondly remember Dr J-P Fonteyne, the highly effective teacher and coordinator of the Graduate International Law Program. My bequest is partly an acknowledgement of the impact and prestige of the ANU as a major teaching and research institution; partly, it is in memory of the scholarship I was given all those decades ago; and partly, it comes from my desire to help those in need.

I say this without self-pity, but I struggled a lot, financially and emotionally, during my early and mid-career. After I left ANU and went to the University of Michigan Law School in the United States, the Burmese regime invalidated my passport. Although I was offered PhD scholarships by the University of Tasmania, Monash University and the University of Melbourne (twice) in the years 1983 to 1985, I was unable to take them up. I went back to Burma in November 1984, just a few days before my late father, Dr San Baw, a renowned orthopaedic surgeon, died of cancer. After my father passed away I was arrested in Burma, held without charge and trial and incommunicado, and was released after 10 months. I then worked at universities in Malaysia, Australia and the South Pacific, before I retired from full-time teaching in 2016.

So, despite having originally come from what might be regarded as an "elite" class background in Burma, I also experienced disadvantages and challenges, not least in my own studies and academic career. This is why it's important to me to help educationally disadvantaged students and early-career researchers, and I have left it to ANU to determine exactly how to distribute this support in the future.

I believe that assisting students and academics at all stages of their careers is quite crucial. It's not merely the funding, but the psychological support and validation that comes with that. Some recipients may not be from disadvantaged backgrounds, but still need significant help to complete their studies, advance their careers, and benefit their communities. I am aware that other sources of funding can sometimes be prohibitively competitive. After some pondering, I chose ANU as the sole beneficiary of my Australian will, to maximise the impact of my bequest.

As a donor, I receive particular satisfaction when hearing from students who have been helped by my philanthropy. I trust my giving will help many students and researchers, from various backgrounds, disciplines and interests. I want to give undergraduates, postgraduates, and researchers a good start in their work, whatever fields they decide to pursue.

I have chosen to include a number of universities in my philanthropic plans, especially to honour my late parents - Dr San Baw, a pioneer of ivory hip prostheses and other orthopaedic innovations, and my late mother, Professor Myint Myint Khin. In memory of my late parents, I have established three endowed funds at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and at the Abramson Cancer Centre, both at the University of Pennsylvania. At ANU and Michigan I also give to law, which is my own field of expertise.

I have left the scope of my ANU bequest deliberately broad, because I don't want it just to support people who are academically brilliant-after all, how does one define brilliance? I am more interested in helping those who have experienced disadvantages, have interests across a range of disciplines, and have a real dedication to undertake research that is novel, innovative, and helps less fortunate members of society. I would also like their research to benefit ANU and its scholarly community. I do hope my philanthropy can contribute to those goals."


Page Owner: Philanthropy