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Skorton's Transnational University

The Chronicle of Higher Education is running a fascinating feature article on Skorton's recent trip to India:

"It's the country-du-jour syndrome," says Madeleine F. Green, vice president of the Center for International Initiatives at the American Council on Education. "In the early 1990s it was Eastern Europe. Then they all ran to South Africa, ... then they moved on to China, and now to India."

With the parade of American visitors showing no signs of letting up, Indian academics are beginning to wonder if these high-profile tours are anything more than publicity stunts designed to siphon off students rather than hammer out real partnerships.

"There's a lot of ceremony to these visits," says K. Muniyappa, chairman of the biochemistry department at the Indian Institute of Science, in Bangalore, after a meeting with Dr. Skorton. While he and Dr. Skorton discussed several specific ideas, such as a six-month rotation in India for Cornell postdocs, some universities come with empty agendas, Mr. Muniyappa says. One visiting American university simply came to ask for a list of the institute's students so it could recruit them.

Of course, one can't deny Cornell's long-standing connections to India--perhaps stronger than any other American university. Two of the University's trustees are Indian businessman, and Cornell's Agriculture program was actively involved in India's "Green Revolution." And then there are Cornell alums like Leonard Elmhirst that did a lot of work in India in the early 20th century.

(A little bit of Cornelliana: Elmhirst, coincidentally, would marry Willard Straigt's widow and wrote the fascinating book: "The Straight and Its Origin")

Still, one can't but help but feel a little bit for Jeff Lehman. Cornell was his "transnational university", but Rawlings got to go to China, and now Skorton to India.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on March 02, 2007 (#)

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