Reinharz describes “Partnerships for Knowledge and Social Justice” in public speech in Mumbai

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Jehuda speaks on Wednesday evening at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, under the auspices of the Asia Society’s India Centre.

St. Xavier’s is 140 years old, with a compact Gothic campus in the heart of South Bombay, complete with gargoyles and elegant wood paneling, but somewhat short on modern conveniences.  We are received graciously by the college’s principal, Father Frazer Mascarenhas,  and he and Jehuda trade stories about the challenges of deferred maintenance.

Jehuda speaks in the grand old convocation hall, a lofty room with ceiling fans between the arches.  First Father Frazer and the director of the Asia Society’s India Centre, Ms. Bunty Chand, welcome the crowd.  Then Zia Mody P ’10 introduces Jehuda, putting her trademark wit aside to impress the crowd with his scholarly credentials.

The speech, “Partnerships for Knowledge and Social Justice,” addresses the role of colleges and universities in tackling the major global problems of our time.  Global problems – like climate change, persistent poverty, and pandemic diseases – can’t be tackled locally, he says.  Jehuda outlines four ways in which higher education’s role is critical:  providing widespread accessibility to education and knowledge; conducting interdisciplinary research; generating big new ideas through study of the liberal arts; and inspiring the next generation of young people to work together to address these problems.

After elaborating on these four roles, Jehuda goes on to discuss the nature of collaborative partnerships, emphasizing the importance of natural affinity, mutual respect, and the willingness to live with and even embrace disagreement.  He devotes some attention to Brandeis University’s ongoing partnership with Al-Quds University, a Palestinian institution, to illustrate his point.

He concludes by painting a vision of a bright future for Brandeis engagement in India, and he invites members of the audience for their ideas for building these connections.

After the talk, Brandeis parents, alumni, and representatives of some of Mumbai’s best high schools gather for further conversation and a celebration of the University’s social justice mission.

Watch this blog for later postings of links to excerpts of the speech in text and video form.

At the Mody Home

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In the evening, Zia Mody P ’10 hosts a gathering where we meet parents and prospective parents of Brandeis students.  Zia is one of India’s most prominent lawyers; she can constantly be found on lists of India’s most influential women.  She’s also an exuberant personality, as zealously attached to people and educational institutions as she is to her work.  This evening she introduces us to the principal and members of the community of the J.B. Petit School, her alma mater and the alma mater of her daughters, including Aarti, Brandeis ’10.   Many of those in the room offer us insightful and helpful suggestions about how to expand the visibility of Brandeis in the Mumbai and broader Indian community.

Zia Mody and Jehuda (at the 10 February Asia Society Talk)

The Jewish Community in Mumbai: Tragedy and Resilience

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With the Jewish Community of Mumbai

The Magen Hassedim Synagogue is in central Mumbai, built in 1925 and still a thriving center of Jewish life.  At noontime on a weekday, more than 35 members of the community turn out to greet and have lunch with us.   Our hosts are leaders of the local organizations: the synagogue, the Joint Distribution Committee, ORT, and Jewish schools.  We learn a great deal about the Bene Israel community in Bombay, which had as many as 20,000 people before significant immigration to Israel after 1947.  The community now numbers around 5000 scattered around Bombay.  Its members welcome us warmly, especially because one of their own, Amira Ashtamkar (whose parents and uncle we meet), is a first-year student in the International Business School this year.

After lunch, we have the more sobering experience of a visit to the Chabad House, the site of the 2008 massacre where six people died, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and Rivkah Holtzberg, the spiritual leaders of the community.  The attack on the Chabad house had resonated deeply in the Brandeis community.  It had been a second home to many Jewish students who had traveled or were working in Mumbai.  And Indian students at Brandeis, with their many Jewish friends, also felt particularly keen distress at this aspect of the tragedy that had rocked their country.  In the wake of the 26 November massacre, Brandeis students founded “Revive Mumbai,” which has and is still working actively to help restore the spirit of the city.

The Chabad House is empty now; the community’s activities have been relocated to another nearby building.  The new rabbi has not yet arrived.  Jehuda, Harleen and I climb through the building room by room, through the spaces where the hostages were held and died, to the room where the Holtzbergs’ two-year-old child was sleeping, hours before he was miraculously rescued from the building.

More than a year later, much has been repaired, but the scars of the fighting are still vivid, and the haunting memory of the tragedy is intense.  In the alleyway outside, we see a sign stenciled on the wall of an adjacent store:  “We will not forget the attacks of November 26.”  We, too, will not forget.

Jehuda with Sharon Galsurkar of ORT in one of the bedrooms of the Chabad House

Among the poor of Mumbai: The remarkable work of two Brandeis alumni

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On our first full day in Mumbai, Jehuda, Harleen Singh and I visit the extraordinary work being done by two alumni, Sundar Burra ’71 and Devika Mahadevan ’00.  I have time at the moment for only the briefest sketch of this day.

We first visit a site of the NGO that Devika runs, called Mumbai Mobile Creches.  This organization serves the children of migrant workers who are employed and live on the construction sites in Mumbai.  MMC provides educational, health and social welfare services to thousands of children who would otherwise have no access at all to these services.  We visit a site in South Bombay where three high rises are being built side-by-side, with apartments already pre-sold at over a million dollars apiece.  The workers, meanwhile, live on-site in improvised shanties, with minimal sanitary facilities.  Devika’s organization provides an oasis for children from infants through age fourteen.

Sundar Burra then takes us to the largest slum in Asia, Dharavi, where more than half a million people live on around 500 acres.   His organization, SPARC

Jehuda with Devika Mahadevan '00 at Mumbai Mobile Creches

, helps mobilize and organize residents of Dharavi and other slums to secure better access to services and to help shape the governmental policies that affect their community.

What strikes us most in Dharavi is the extraordinary energy and industry of the informal economy there.  Most of Dharavi’s residents work within the slum itself, many on recycling projects that painstakingly transform the discarded materials of the city into reusable products.  We see the process by which residents start with plastic trash, then crush it, wash it, and form it into small clean, sorted piles that are eventually sold to companies that make new plastic products.

But this informal economy is threatened by a potential plan for the redevelopment of Dharavi which would construct forty-story high-rise buildings where these recycling and other informal economy operations would be impossible.  It’s a complex and important story about the challenges of addressing urban issues on a massive scale, and Sundar and SPARC have been in the middle of it, always urging the policymakers to listen carefully to the voices of the residents themselves.

Before our walk through Dharavi, Sundar Burra '71 explains the issues facing Asia's largest slum

In the evening, we continue the conversation at Sundar’s flat, in the company of other Brandeis alumni, academics, and NGO leaders.  Among other things, we discuss ideas for providing more opportunities for Brandeis students to become involved in the work being done to address urban poverty in Mumbai.

A fuller account of this remarkable day will have to wait until we have more time to describe it.

In Mumbai: New Members of the Brandeis Family

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We arrive in Mumbai to a blast of heat, a bit startling after the mildness of the Delhi winter.  The scale of the city is vast, and so is the traffic, even in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.  It is wedding season in India, and on our way from the airport to the hotel we past many plots of open land that have been transformed into elaborate parties that spill out onto the roadways.  The legendary contrasts of this sprawling city are everywhere:  the swank high rises and car dealerships, side-by-side the crowded shanties of slums and pavement dwellers.

A new Brandeis family, Hemant and Yolanda Paranjape, the parents of Tanay Paranjape ’13 host us for dinner at their home in a Mumbai suburb.  We also meet Preeti Nalwa, the mother of Tarini Nalwa ’13; the Talwa family has recently relocated to Mumbai from London.  The Paranjape family has a history of support for educational institutions in Mumbai that goes back a century, including establishing the Parle Tilak Vidyalaya School, and we learn a great deal about how one local family has made a multi-generational commitment to serving its community.

Jehuda Reinharz, Hemant and Yolanda Paranjape P '13, and Preeti Nalwa P '13

Making a Difference in Sustainable Development

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On our last morning in Delhi, we have breakfast with Ravi Lakshmikanthan and a group of alumni and students of the Heller School’s Sustainable International Development program.   The SID students have all graduated in the last few years, and are active in the governmental, intergovernmental, and NGO sectors.   Among them are  Reena Gupta, MA SID ’02, a natural resources management specialist with the World Bank, Chandan Samal MA SID ’03 is a project development specialist with USAID, focusing on food security issues, and Alok Kumar, MA SID ’06, who is working on capacity development projects in rural India for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  Tenzin Dhonyo has made his way down to Delhi from Dharasalama, where he is

Jehuda Reinharz and Meher Singh '32

working for the Tibetan government in exile.   We compare notes on the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, on the impact of their Brandeis experience, and on ideas for future gatherings of Brandeis alumni in Delhi and in India more generally.  The alumni (and Jehuda) also take turns holding young Meher Singh, Brandeis class of 2032, whose mother, Professor Harleen Singh, is busy soliciting ideas from the alumni about stronger connections between SID and Women’s and Gender Studies.

Reinharz calls for “Global Student Research Corps” at Delhi Summit

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In his remarks in the session on “Mobilizing Knowledge Institutions,” President Jehuda Reinharz makes the case for a big idea: mobilizing the talents and collective power of undergraduate and graduate students from around the world to create a “Global Student Research Corps,” a kind of Peace Corps adapted to the particular challenges of today.

Big problems, the president says, require big ideas, the kind of synthesis of knowledge best nurtured in liberal arts institutions.  “It seems to me,” he continues,  “that we, who are leaders in higher education, in science, in government, and in industry have not fully appreciated the resource that we have in these young people.  I would like to see the establishment of a Global Student Research Corps comprising a worldwide network of undergraduate and graduate students, who can work together to generate the data and the knowledge that we need to battle the effects of climate change and other global challenges, mobilizing people and their governments to take action.”

A corps of young people would undertaken local research on shared global research data, sharing that data on a common web platform.  Students would work on hard science projects – collecting local data on eroding coastlines, for example – as well as on projects that draw on the social sciences, the humanities, and even the arts.  (Jehuda mentioned that right now Brandeis is hosting a Korean graphic artist who uses his medium to mobilize people on global warming.)

The idea resonated with Brandeis alumna Wakako Hironaka, MA ’64, who is also an invited speaker at the summit.  Hironaka sought Jehuda out after his remarks to congratulate him on a bold concept that could both provide crucial new knowledge and engage a generation in working collectively on the world’s largest problems.

See the full text of Jehuda’s address here

At the Heller School booth at the DSDS

Jehuda Reinharz with Coca-Cola Executive Jeffrey Seabright


Jehuda Reinharz and Wakako Hironaka MA '64

Sustainability Summit: Day 1

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Jehuda Reinharz and Nutan Kaushik

The Delhi Sustainable Development Summit starts with a flourish: an address by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  We are met at the venue by Nutan Kaushik, a biotechnologist  from The Energy and Resources Institute who has been assigned as President Reinharz’s host for the summit.   Nutan’s specialty is agriculture: she divides her time between the laboratory, teaching at TERI University, and working directly with farmers in both the North and the South of the country in improving crop yields. The opening speeches – and sessions throughout the day — reiterate the urgency of addressing global climate change, especially in light of the disappointing results of the Copenhagen summit in December.  There is perhaps a bit of a sense of preaching to the converted within this gathering – those who have made the effort to come to Delhi are already deeply concerned, and we hear many stories of government, business, and NGO efforts to address sustainability within their own institutions. In the exhibition hall, we visit the booth of the Heller School, where literature about a range of Brandeis programs is available.  Faculty member Ravi Lakshmikanthan  has made the trip from Waltham.  He is joined at the booth by Heller alum Tenzin Dhonyo MA SID ‘08, who is currently working with the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharasalama, and Katrina Kazada MA SID ’10, a second year SID student who is doing her practicum with TERI itself.  Business at the exhibition booth is good, they tell us.  Most of the other exhibitors are for-profit corporations, and Brandeis has the education field pretty much to itself. Jehuda speaks on Day 2 in the afternoon.  Stay tuned.

President and Minister

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Jehuda and Atul Punj take a few minutes away from the dinner at Punj’s home to meet with Kapil Sibal, the Minister of Human Resources and Development – in effect India’s education minister.  Sibal came into office in 2008 with an ambitious agenda to shake up the Indian educational establishment, raise standards and improve accessibility in the primary grades, and to open India up to more offerings and involvement of universities from overseas.   He has pushed new legislation that would tear down some of the barriers to foreign universities operating in India, but there is still a long way to go.  Well-intentioned laws – such as requirements that universities set aside a certain percentage of seats for disadvantaged classes and castes – reduce the flexibility needed to operate successfully.

But Sibal is widely respected for his energy, his ideas, and his determination, and Jehuda has a chance to share with him some of his ideas for Brandeis engagement.  Brandeis, Jehuda tells him, is not interested in a “branch campus” model.  We’re not about build physical structures that require massive amounts of capital and administrative and faculty time.  Instead, Brandeis is explore alternative models, perhaps through partnering with new or existing Indian institutions, perhaps creating some academic offerings via on-line networks.  In an era where students around the world have so many choices, it’s important to develop new models that maintain the highest educational standards while meeting student demand for flexibility.   Sibal was intrigued, and Brandeis is now “in the mix” as he considers new policies and initiatives involving U.S. institutions.

Kapil Sibal

Parents, Students, and Schools: A Dinner in New Delhi

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Atul Punj hosts a dinner at his home in New Delhi, where Jehuda, Harleen Singh, and I  meet Brandeis alumni, current parents, heads and counselors from Delhi schools, and, best of all, some newly-accepted Brandeis students.   We are joined again by Vineeta Rai ’66 and by Soli Sorabjee, and we talk with Tejbir Singh, ’70, and his wife Mala, who run Seminar, a highly-regarded monthly journal of South Asian politics and culture; the recent Indian overtures to Pakistan, dominating the news here, provide grist for conversation and some heated discussion.

We have a chance to introduce Brandeis in a personal way to some of the key gatekeepers in Delhi’s private schools. It’s clear that the reputation of Brandeis is growing – but that visits and conversations like these are vital to conveying the strengths of the University and making it a foremost option.   This may be particularly true for some of the newer schools in Delhi – institutions that have sprung to life only in the last few years, that are just beginning to send students to U.S. colleges and universities.  We field many questions about Brandeis’s history, student life, and academics.

We also meet the families of two students who have just been accepted under the University’s early decision plan.  Umedh Bharany and Anuva Jain will be arriving next year, and they and their families were flush with excitement in meeting President Reinharz, and in looking forward to their Brandeis experience.    We also meet with a number of parents with children still in high school, who now have additional reasons to consider Brandeis as an option.

Among these conversations, Atul Punj and his wife Bindu animate the party with gracious attention, lively anecdotes, and parental pride.

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