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College Mourns Dr. Nazma Latif-Zaman, Associate Professor of Economics

Dr. Nazma Latif-Zaman, a soft-spoken native of Bangladesh who taught economics to Providence College students for almost 24 years and willingly assisted colleagues across all academic disciplines, died Saturday, June 8, after an illness. She was 63.

“There were many occasions where she would go out of her way on behalf of a student, both in her capacity as a teacher and as an advisor,” said Dr. Alan L. Kessler, assistant professor of economics and department chair, in remarks presented during her funeral and graveside service at the Islamic Center of New England in Sharon, Mass.

“She was willing to undertake any task that we asked of her, serve on any number of committees, volunteer to represent the department in the Faculty Senate, and to do whatever she could to further the welfare of the Providence College community, and indeed of the community in general,” Kessler said.

Dr. Latif-Zaman was appointed assistant professor of economics at PC in September 1989 and was promoted to associate professor on July 1, 1993. She taught Principles of Macroeconomics, Macroeconomic Analysis, Econometric Models, and The Economics of Developing Nations. She also taught Honors Macroeconomics in the Liberal Arts Honors Program. 

She held master’s degrees from Williams College and from Dhaka University in Bangladesh, and received a doctorate from Northeastern University.

Dr. William J. Simeone, retired associate professor of economics and department chair, said Dr. Latif-Zaman was teaching at a college in the Midwest when he recommended her hiring.

“I spoke to her on the phone and immediately knew she was a very smart lady,” Simeone said. “The best decision that I ever made in my life for Providence College was to hire Nazma.”

Her academic specialty was the economics of developing nations, a subject on which she published internationally — though she did not promote her own successes. 

“Some people make it well known that they have various kinds of publications and that they are exceptional,” said Simeone. “Nazma was a very humble person. She was one of the smartest economists I knew.”

Promoting Asian studies

In 2000, Dr. Latif-Zaman and Rev. Albino Barrera, O.P., professor of economics and theology, were awarded a grant from the College's Committee on Aid to Faculty Research to study “Liberalization and Convergence: The Case of Asian and Latin-American Developing Nations.”

The following year, Dr. Latif-Zaman presented their paper at the 27th annual Conference of the Eastern Economic Association in New York.  

Father Barrera remembered Dr. Latif-Zaman as a “very professional colleague, and at the same time, always so very pleasant, and so gentle.”

From 1993 until 1996, she was director of PC’s Southeast Asian Scholarship Program, established for the benefit of Hmong, Cambodian, and Vietnamese youth in the Providence area whose families fled military conflict and violence in Southeast Asia.

“She was the one advising the scholars,” said Father Barrera. “She was the mentor and director, guiding the students and making sure they thrived here at the College.”

Dr. Donna T. McCaffrey ’73G, ’83 Ph.D., & ’87G, assistant professor of history, served for many years with Dr. Latif-Zaman on the Asian Studies Committee. Once, when a delegation from a Chinese university visited the College, McCaffrey hosted an American-style steak dinner. Dr. Latif-Zaman attended with her husband, Samir, and wore a traditional sari.

“She made the Chinese very comfortable and brought tremendous rapport,” said McCaffrey. “It was obvious that PC was committed to diversity. Nazma was very much part of that and promoted that.”

Dr. Latif-Zaman also was devoted to students, her colleagues said.

“She was very gracious about taking students who needed special attention or were afraid of economics. She would encourage them, and some even ended up declaring a minor” in the subject, said McCaffrey. “She taught them to think in a world perspective rather than a very focused, narrow American perspective. She taught them not to be cowed by a field they weren’t familiar with. She would take whatever time was necessary to explain to them the major principles until they understood.”

Simeone said Dr. Latif-Zaman volunteered for many College committees and “people went searching for her” to serve on others. On the Faculty Senate, she brought a balanced perspective, “always voting for what was good for the College as a whole, now and in the future,” said McCaffrey.

An example of “doing God’s work”

Dr. Ann W. Norton, professor of humanities in art history, relied on Dr. Latif-Zaman’s expertise in her classes.

“I sometimes teach Islamic art, and she spoke in my classes, because I wanted her to express what it was like to be a Muslim woman in a Muslim country, as well as over here,” said Norton. “If I had a question about Bangladesh or Dhaka, she would be so helpful. She was always willing to do extra things, just so open and so helpful.”

Dr. Catherine L. Keating, assistant professor of special education, often would run into Dr. Latif-Zaman outside work because the two lived in neighboring communities.

“Nazma would often have one or two family members with her, and with her routine warmth and grace, warmly greet me and introduce me as a colleague from Providence College,” said Keating. “It didn’t matter where I was fortunate enough to run into Nazma. It was always a memorable and joyous occasion.”

Keating said Dr. Latif-Zaman was a living example of “doing God’s work.”

“At her funeral, I was touched by the beauty of the Islamic service and felt privileged to have attended,” said Keating. “I told her grieving husband that Nazma was a beautiful person who brought joy to me every time I was fortunate to run into her, no matter how briefly. Nazma will be missed at Providence College by each and every one of us who was privileged to have crossed paths with her.”

Dr. Latif-Zaman managed her accomplishments while battling cancer for more than a decade.

“The courage and determination she demonstrated over the years is a tribute to her indomitable spirit and the deep love she had for her husband and children,” said Kessler. “No one who met Nazma ever had a bad word to say about her. She was, in the words of my religion, a ‘righteous person’ who fought the good fight.”

“She fought so hard and so long with such incredible courage,” said McCaffrey. “She was a gracious, lovely, brilliant woman who had an incredible internal courage and was absolutely dedicated to informing and encouraging students. She’ll be dearly missed by her colleagues who so well respected her. She was dedicated always to the truth.”


— Vicki-Ann Downing

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