January 18, 2007

Skorton Meets Indian Pres., Prime Minister

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Over the winter break, President David J. Skorton celebrated the new year by embarking on a weeklong exploratory trip to New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad starting Jan. 1. Highlights of the trip included meetings with Abdul Kalam, president of India, and Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India, specifically to explore possibilities for academic collaboration between Cornell and India. Other objectives of the trip included reinvigorating alumni involvement and enhancing Cornell’s visibility in the country.

“There is enormous change in India, and I am in awe of the changes that the country has made in combating hunger, improving its agricultural situation, tackling difficult healthcare issues and trying to find a way to reduce social and economic disparities,” Skorton said to The Sun. “I was impressed by the courage and clarity with which the Indian people and leadership are facing the issues that remain.”

Skorton named four major goals of his trip: first, to strengthen University support for existing projects between Cornell and India and to explore further opportunities; second, to find ways to provide public service to Indians; third, to listen to the 600 alumni and learn how to better serve their expectations; and lastly, to increase Cornell’s visibility within the country.

“I think we succeeded very well in the visibility area,” Skorton noted, claiming he had over ten interviews with various media outlets. “We also succeeded in listening to alumni, but [the results of that] remains to be seen. … We were successful in providing service, but … the right people to decide what kind of academic exchanges [we should have] are Cornell’s faculty and students. My plan is to meet with deans and asking them what [looks appealing].”

Although this trip to India is Skorton’s first international one as president of Cornell, the University has had a long history within India. Skorton met with approximately a dozen government officials in various ministries, most of whom are alumni or have had connections with Cornell. Topics discussed include information technology, cyber security, biotechnology, genomics and higher education, among many others.

“The fact that we met with the president, the prime minister and various government leaders speaks volumes of how much they appreciate us,” said Tommy Bruce, vice president for university communications. “We were honored by high level attention. The prime minister found two hours of his time to meet in [his private residence].”

The prominence of Cornellians throughout India was evident in the fact that the Indian Institute of Science has 11 faculty members who are Cornell alumni, one of the many examples that Bruce cited. Skorton also met with Cornell trustees Ratan Tata ’62, chairman of the holding company of the Tata Group, India’s largest industrial conglomerate, and N.R. Narayana Murthy, chairman of the board for Infosys Technologies Ltd., India’s largest information technology company.

Cornell developed several memoranda of understanding with Indian institutions, including agreements to expand collaboration in engineering, computing, agriculture, food processing and marketing. During the trip, Skorton met with several students from the Johnson Graduate School of Management who were in Mumbai to study the management practices of Indian companies. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences also sent 25 students to India as part of the course International Agriculture 602: Agriculture in the Developing Nations to study the country’s contemporary developments in agriculture and the food sector, among other topics.

The delegation also visited the Asian Heart Institute, known for its exceptional cardiac care. To add another dimension to the Cornell connections in India, the founder of the institute, Dr. Ramakanta Panda, currently has a son attending the University.

“I wanted to see a little bit about my own field in India. … The cardiologists were extraordinarily well-trained,” Skorton said after being given a tour of the facilities. “They cover the whole gamut by providing preventative medicine, by helping people in the midst of an acute problem and by helping to prevent second heart attacks. They have very impressive statistics for heart surgery.”

“This institute’s clientele not only includes Indians but people around the world will travel to India to get this world-class cardiac care at much-reduced rates,” Bruce said.

According to Charles Phlegar, vice president for alumni affairs and development, Skorton also met with several alumni groups in each city he visited.

“Everyone was extremely positive about getting more involved in Cornell and in Weill Medical Center,” Phlegar said. “We were very encouraged by the trip.”

According to Prof. David Wippman, law and vice provost of international relations, administrators are already laying out a follow-up trip to India, likely to include Provost Biddy Martin and several deans.

“This trip shouldn’t be viewed in isolation,” Wippman said. “We did a lot of listening to suggestions and finding opportunities and identifying interests that mesh with ours. … A follow-up will have a more targeted focus.”

“It provided a lot of insight into the basis of future collaborations,” Bruce said.