Joan’s Words

Omar Azfar: His work and at work:

                                    Joan Hoffman, Chair, Department of Economics

                                                            John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Upon reflection it seems to me that the inspiration for Omar’s work came from the wonderful sharing he experienced in his family and tradition, because there was such a gap between that sharing and what was possible at the national level due to corruption.  The outpouring of enthusiasm for contribution to the nation that we saw at the Obama inauguration would not be possible for a corrupt government.

One reason I think this lies in the experience that was the inspiration that lead to hiring Omar.  A young Moroccan man in my economic development course had a difficult time studying for the course, because he kept saying, “we know what to do, but we can’t because the government is so corrupt.”  He also said, “We can’t even send money home because people in the government would just take it and spend it on themselves.”  These words disturbed me, and, in what is probably a very American reaction, I said to myself, “What can be done?”  I looked around and saw John Jay College where some people study corruption and the UN across the island, and I said, “I need an economist who specializes in corruption!”

And, so, the universe, somewhat serendipitously, lead me to Omar.  At the hiring conference someone got me to a party I didn’t want to attend (I am an introvert), and where I knew no one.  So, I looked around, walked over to a group of three people, and said, “I am looking for an economist who specializes in corruption.”  The other two people pointed to Omar.

When Omar came to John Jay, his merits were quickly recognized.  He was soon invited to join the doctoral faculty.  He was given early tenure.  He taught the first course on corruption in the doctoral program, a course that had unusually high enrollment.  And, his publications kept rolling in. 

Farid, Omar’s brother, once said, “Omar wants a salon.”  What I envisioned for Omar was that he would develop a  global salon, a global institute involving John Jay, the CUNY doctoral program, and the UN where people would come from around the world to study the problems of corruption and exchange ideas about what to do about it. 

What I have done when people in my life have passed on has been to commemorate them by committing  to move forward on some issue that mattered to them.

I have been pleased to learn that Omar’s friends and family are moving towards gathering his writings for publication.  I have written my own publisher to let them know about this opportunity.

There is also the work that Omar cared about, the work against corruption.  I hope we all can honor Omar by making some contribution in some way in our own lives to the fight against corruption. It could be many things. Encouraging a student in their studies, a small donation, standing up to someone: what ever is appropriate and possible in our lives.

 Omar at work

Our Omar was a charming extrovert who loved festivity. He certainly brightened the halls of John Jay.  He reached out to faculty and students.  He was a brilliant scholar, and he was also a collaborator and team worker.  He would write “Dear Team” in his emails.

I would describe Omar as “thoughtfully appreciative.” He thought about people and appreciated what was good about them.

Omar contributed to our department throughout his illness. He wrote up the faculty profiles on our website.  He came to meetings with his chemo pack, and we brought him in on the telephone when he could not make meetings. He screened candidates for our new hires.  He had intended to join me to interview a candidate on the night before the inauguration. We did what we could to involve him, and he certainly gave all that he could, when he could.

We had kept Omar’s illness rather private.  This was possible especially because of the contribution of our colleague, Jay Hamilton, who stepped in when the going was “bumpy.”  Therefore, the news about Omar’s dying was a shock to many in the College, which they indicated in their emails to me.  We know that we have experienced a great loss.

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