President: India mission far exceeded expectations

Exchanges of scholars, significant donations and possibilities for broadening Study Abroad opportunities are among results

Photos/Mukunda De

President Fred Lawrence, former Indian Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee and Professor Harleen Singh at Delhi forum

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See videos from public forum featuring President Lawrence and Soli Sorabjee
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An agreement to engage in collaborative scientific research with a leading biological center, generous donations, warm connections with families of students and potential students and a range of new possibilities for social justice work and study abroad – all are among the results of the Brandeis mission that President Fred Lawrence led to India this month.

Brandeis faculty and administrative leaders met with academics, donors, and interested students and parents in New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai.

“We were able to engage with India on a wide range of levels,” Lawrence said in an interview this week. “The results clearly exceeded my already high expectations.”

Specifically, the trip netted:

•    An agreement with administrators and faculty of the National Center for Biological Studies (NCBS), in Bangalore, on steps to form a partnership that could involve exchanges of graduate students, undergraduates and post-docs.

•    Several significant donations that will boost the South Asian Studies Program and the Brandeis-India Initiative. (Details cannot be disclosed until legal documents have been completed.)

•    Possible creation of a program resembling a Justice Brandeis semester during which undergraduates would work and study in the biological center’s wildlife conservation program.

“These results represent substantial payoffs in a relatively short time,” Lawrence said, noting that the mission also led to possibilities for judicial conferences and training with Jindal Global University outside Delhi, creation of a new alumni club in Bangalore and increased enrollment of highly qualified Indian students at Brandeis.

“The level of enthusiasm about Brandeis among parents of current and prospective students was inspiring,” Lawrence said. “Our liberal arts model has great appeal there.”

He said he was particularly impressed with the enthusiasm of faculty at NCBS and Jindal for a broad range of collaborations.

The mission also produced the first indications that Brandeis could play an important role in the rapidly deepening Israel-India relationship, as a faculty member at Jindal asked whether Brandeis would help her set up an Israel studies center at the Indian institution.

“I had hoped  that we might be helpful in a triangular relationship – Brandeis, India and Israel,” Lawrence said. “Now we see there is enthusiastic support for that on the ground in India.”

The Jindal faculty member who wants to start an Israel studies center is Rohee Das Gupta, executive director of Jindal’s Center for European Studies. She will be on the Brandeis campus for two weeks next summer as a participant in the Schusterman Center’s Summer Institute for Israel Studies and then will travel to Israel with other members of the institute for a week’s study tour.

Ilan Troen, who is director of the Schusterman Center and the Stoll Family Chair in Israel Studies, said that, if it is actually established, the Jindal center would be the first Israel studies center in South Asia. He noted that, in addition to Dasgupta, scholars interested in establishing centers would come to the Schusterman summer program from China, the Czech Republic and Canada this year.

“We are the mother of Israel Studies outside of Israel,” Troen said.

The Brandeis mission to India met with many old friends as well as new ones. Lawrence held a public forum in New Delhi with Soli Sorabjee, a civil rights advocate and former attorney general, on "Justice in Diverse Societies." Sorabjee is the grandparent of a Brandeis alumna and the man for whom the Soli Sorabjee Lecture Series is named.

The Indian mission and Lawrence’s first overseas trip as Brandeis president, to Israel, reflected the approach to the five-year old Brandeis Global Initiative developed by the President’s Office and the Office of Global Affairs.

This calls for the university to respond to globalization in the academy and in society generally by identifying a small number of countries in major regions of the world where valuable collaborations can be formed between Brandeis and local institutions. The approach was taken initially in India and in Israel because in both countries Brandeis already had a strong alumni base, significant numbers of engaged faculty, and emerging institutional partnerships.

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