IU's international reach expands in Middle East

Apr. 16, 2014

When IU’s vice president for international affairs, David Zaret, was in Israel in March, he went to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem. People from all over the world pilgrimage to the wall to pray, many slipping pieces of paper containing a wish or dream between the stones.

Western Wall

IU is increasing its partnerships in the Middle East. Sophomore Matt Bloom center, visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem in January. | PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT BLOOM

As he approached, a young Orthodox Jewish man handing out yarmulkes, pens and paper asked Zaret where he was from. “I’m from the U.S.A. -- Indiana,” Zaret said, speaking slowly and perhaps a bit louder than usual, in a way that even the most practiced international travelers sometimes speak when talking to someone with a different native language. “Do you know where Indiana is in the U.S.?”

The young man smiled slightly. “Indianapolis?” He asked. Zaret was surprised and shook his head no.

“If you’re not from Indianapolis, you’re from Bloomington?”

“Yes,” said Zaret, surprised. And he added, “I work for Indiana University.” The young man smiled more broadly and said, “Go Hoosiers!”

“You know, our basketball team wasn’t very good this year,” Zaret said. “I know,” the young man replied. “So make a wish. That’s what the paper is for.”

Zaret tells the story as one of many examples of IU’s international reach. The moment of levity -- one that he relayed to IU athletics director Fred Glass after the trip -- was part of Zaret’s visit to three top Israeli universities to enhance and initiate partnerships that will lead to more faculty and student collaborations.

New opportunities

Zaret made the trip -- his first visit to Israel -- to expand an existing, 40-year partnership with Hebrew University of Jerusalem and form new ones with Tel Aviv University and the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology). IU will co-sponsor workshops to help explore areas of possible collaboration between IU and Israeli faculty at these institutions.

At Hebrew University, Zaret met with Daniel Kaganovich, academic director of the school’s international program in quantitative biology, to discuss opportunities for IU students. Daniel’s father, Michael Kaganovich, is chair of IU’s Department of Economics.

“Study abroad opportunities for science students are the most difficult to arrange,” Zaret said. “Our students who study and conduct research at Hebrew University will work side-by-side in labs with world leaders in the sciences.”

Kaganovich said Hebrew University and the Silberman Institute have attracted world-class faculty.

“Our faculty are world leaders in the fields of molecular neuroscience, high-resolution live cell imaging, bioengineering and biophysics,” he said. “Students who come here to study and do research will have direct access to expertise and technology, which is available in few other places in the world.”

Letting students do hands-on research with leading experts in various fields is the best way to learn about biology, Kaganovich said, adding that the program will benefit IU students who want to experience the international research community but at the same time are keeping their eye on MCATs and grad school applications.

“Science is an international enterprise,” Kaganovich said. “International contacts and collaborations are the driving force behind breakthroughs -- and our program is designed to help promising future scientists from IU take the first step in being a part of a global scientific community.” 

Letter of appreciation

Zaret’s visit to Israel came just before IU President Michael A. McRobbie was presented with a letter by professor Elhanan Yakira, from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on behalf of the Association of Israeli University Heads representing their seven renowned research universities.

The letter voiced appreciation for IU’s bold stance in condemning organizations boycotting higher education in Israel, as proposed by the American Studies Association and other organizations. “Your clear stand in favor of academic freedom and the importance of academic collaboration with colleagues and institutions from around the world is of deep significance to us. ... We thank you for your courage and for your steadfast adherence to the principles of free and independent scientific thought.”

McRobbie’s statements in December 2013 condemned such boycotts, citing their “profound chilling effect on academic freedom.”

McRobbie and Robert H. McKinney, an Indianapolis business and civic leader as well as a former IU trustee and chair of the board, have each been honored by the Anti-Defamation League with the agency’s “Man of Achievement Award.” They will be formally honored by the Anti-Defamation League, the nation’s leading civil rights and human rights agency, on April 24 in Indianapolis.

Gateway to the Middle East

Indiana University is committed to broadening IU connections to universities throughout the Middle East.

Next fall, McRobbie and Zaret will travel to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, where IU has existing partnerships with top universities, and where there are opportunities to expand collaborative activities. This builds on prior trips by Zaret to both countries.

Just as the range and depth of Jewish Studies and Hebrew language instruction fuel IU partnerships in Israel, the range and depth of other Near Eastern studies and Arabic language instruction drives initiatives in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and elsewhere.

IU Bloomington’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures is one of the oldest, most respected departments of its kind in the nation. An important recent indicator of IU’s activity in this area is the April 3 to 4 conference in Bloomington organized by the Title VI Center for the Study of the Middle East that featured women from Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq discussing opportunities and challenges for feminist initiatives in the Middle East.

In addition, Zaret said that Saudi Arabia is fourth on the list of countries that send students to IU. Currently, there are 580 students from Saudi Arabia who are studying at IU Bloomington and IUPUI -- and 20 percent are women.

“These expanded partnerships with Israel and Saudi Arabia, the IU School of Philanthropy’s international programs and our School of Global and International Studies are all part of our global gateway initiative,” Zaret said. "The expanding partnerships with Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey reflect the immense range of teaching and research in these areas of the world.”

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