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Reinharz calls for a 'Global Student Research Corps'

Ambitious presidential trip to India includes visits with alumni, families, and friends of Brandeis

Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz, who has been pushing the idea of Big Ideas to address pressing issues in the world and in the academy, offered a big idea of his own during a recent visit to India, calling for creation of a Global Student Research Corps to generate the data and the knowledge that we need to battle the effects of climate change and other global challenges.”

The president made his proposal during remarks at the 2010 Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, and in subsequent conversations and interviews with Indian academics and journalists.

 “Such a network of students could work together on common research projects -- gathering data in their local communities and sharing the data on a common web platform where the results would be available to students, scholars, and policymakers alike,” he said. “Some of these projects might be hard science -- students from universities around the globe working together, for example, to collect local data on coastline changes. Others might be focused on the social sciences or the humanities, perhaps even the creative arts.”

During the two-week trip, the most ambitious of his 15-year presidency in terms of its length and scope, Reinharz also delivered an address at the Asia Society in Mumbai, talked with representatives of Indian educational institutions about potential partnerships, observed social-justice programs in which Brandeis alumni are involved, and met with alumni and potential students. His visit included meetings with Mr. Kapil Sibal, India's Minister for Human Resource Development, who is working on expanding Indian higher education partnerships; and with Mr. Arun Maira of India's Planning Commission.

Reinharz was also graciously hosted for dinners organized by Brandeis friends and family: parents Mr. Atul Punj P'12 and Mrs. Zia Mody P'10; Mr. Soli Sorabjee GP '10; and Mr. Sundar Burra '71. All are leaders in Indian society who have been helping to lead the university's engagement with India. Many other alumni and families also helped organize the visit.

Vice President for Global Affairs Daniel Terris, leader of a current, campus-wide effort mandated by Provost Marty W. Krauss to explore possibilities for expanding Brandeis’ international engagements, said that it made sense to explore possibilities in India because “India is one of the places where Brandeis already has strengths, and where we are working to build on those strengths.”

Terris and Professor Harleen Singh, a co-chair of the University’s new South Asian Studies Program, accompanied the president.

Some 67 participants in the Wien International Scholarship Program have come to Brandeis from India, more than from any other country. Wien alumni from India include Vineeta Rai ‘66, a senior government official; Tejbir Singh ’70, editor of one of India’s most important journals of ideas; Burra ’71, leader of an NGO empowering the poor in Mumbai’s slums; Anand Patwardhan '72, one of India's leading documentary filmmakers; and Arjun Appadurai ’70, an anthropologist who is one of the world’s foremost authorities on globalization.

Reinharz returned from the trip deeply impressed by the energy and entrepreneurship of Indian people, from street vendors to industrialists.  “Everybody seems to be involved in some sort of business, new idea, new way of doing things,” he said.  “Indian entrepreneurship has gotten a lot of attention with regard to information technology and global business.  But the same spirit can be found in Asia’s largest slum, the Mumbai neighborhood of Dharavi.  In Dharavi, small-scale entrepreneurship, especially the recycling of trash, is the life-blood of the community.

“Every scrap of paper, metal and plastic is reused, transformed through painstaking manual labor, and sold,” he observed. “My view of slums has radically changed, as I now have a greater understanding of their possibilities, as well as their limitations.”

Reinharz’ visit drew interest from major Indian media, including the Times of India, the Hindustan Times and CNBC India, and he said he was encouraged about Brandeis’ future possibilities in the country because “an increasing number of Indians seems to appreciate the importance of the liberal arts, which is not common in many parts of the world, but is a prominent feature of American higher education.  I was also struck that the Brandeis connection to the Jewish community resonated in India not only with the Indian Jews whom I met, but also with Indians from all walks of life who appreciate the Jewish commitment to learning, tradition, and justice.

“All in all, there are intriguing opportunities for new models of partnership and cooperation,” he said. “I am confident that the ties between India and our university will be broader and deeper as we continue to build Brandeis University as a global institution.”

In recent years, the number of students at Brandeis from India has grown steadily, both at the undergraduate level, and in graduate programs in the sciences, the International Business School, and the Sustainable International Development programs, to the point that there are nearly 100 Indian students at Brandeis in 2009-10.

In addition, Brandeis students from other countries have gotten more active in India, notably through working in, and even founding, non-governmental organizations tackling issues of poverty, health, and social justice. In the wake of the tragic attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, Brandeis students formed “Revive Mumbai,” and worked in the city in the summer of 2009 to support the work of a theater organization that serves some of the city’s poorest children.

Brandeis faculty are active in research and scholarship in India and in the subcontinent generally. Aging in Bengal, public health policy across the country, film and mythology, entrepreneurship are among the topics on which faculty are engaged. “Tiger by the Tail,” a recent, major exhibition by the Women’s Studies Research Center captured the strengths and the plight of Indian women. Brandeis also is nurturing a burgeoning relationship with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), whose director, Nobel Prize-winner R.K. Pachauri received an honorary degree and delivered the commencement address at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management in 2009.

As part of the Brandeis-India Initiative, the University this year created the Soli Sorabjee Lecture Series, honoring a former minister of justice who is one of India’s great human rights champions. Mr. Sorabjee will visit Brandeis on April 14 to deliver a lecture entitled "Rule of Law: A Moral Imperative for South Asia and the World."

On their recent trip, Reinharz and Terris dined with Sorabjee, his wife Zena, and some of India’s most eminent legal experts, including P.P. Rao, a leading advocate before the Supreme Court; Upendra Baxi, the former vice-chancellor of the University of Delhi; and Dipankar Gupta, a sociologist whose work has also encompassed business ethics.

The guests are eager to talk not only about Brandeis University, but about Louis Brandeis.  The concept of the “Brandeis brief,” with its emphasis on bringing sociological data and other facts to bear on legal cases, resonated deeply with them, and Sorabjee quoted Brandeis opinions from memory.