American university professors find academic fireworks in Israel

Students on the Tel Aviv University campus – new exchange programs have been announced with Brown University and the University of Toronto.Tel Aviv University recently played host to 11 US university presidents and chancellors as they and TAU’s new president …

Students on the Tel Aviv University campus – new exchange programs have been announced with Brown University and the University of Toronto.Tel Aviv University recently played host to 11 US university presidents and chancellors as they and TAU’s new president Zvi Galil discussed ways in which both countries could strengthen scientific and academic ties. Held over the Fourth of July holiday, the meeting was part of an eight-day ‘University Presidents Seminar’ organized by the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange.

Among the US presidents and chancellors was world-renowned chemist Marye Anne Fox from the University of California San Diego; the nationally-respected urban historian Ricardo Romo, from the University of Texas San Antonio; and influential scholar on US foreign affairs Eugene P. Trani from the Virginia Commonwealth University.

The Americans expressed an interest in furthering cross-faculty research collaboration and the scope of student exchanges with Israeli universities. The visit took place in the wake of a UK-based effort to impose an academic boycott on Israeli academic institutions.

“Tel Aviv University has many centers of excellence, and we know you are looking for collaboration,” Galil told the visiting educators in his opening remarks. Galil, dean of engineering and applied science at Columbia University until his TAU appointment earlier this year, pointed specifically to TAU programs in Middle Eastern studies, nanotechnology, neuroscience, computer science and archeology.

During their visit, the guests were exposed to several of TAU’s most celebrated programs and departments, including the Sackler School of Medicine, headed by Dean Yossi Mekori.

He announced new exchange programs with Brown University and the University of Toronto, drawing attention to the fact that TAU offers curricula delivered exclusively in English. “We run a very competitive top-notch medical school and a majority of our students get placed in the best US schools as fellows,” Mekori said.

Dr. Eyal Zisser from the Department of Middle Eastern and African Studies reported a growing interest from US scholars in his department’s research, and also in TAU’s Overseas School Program, especially since the 9/11 terrorist attack.

“Here in Israel, security and terrorism has always been an important subject for our scholars,” said Zisser, whose department boasts over 1,000 students, 100 of whom are Ph.D. candidates.

Dr. Elie Rekhess, an expert in Israeli-Arab affairs from the acclaimed political think-tank the Moshe Dayan Center, recounted the success of a recent visit by 21 American academics from Brandeis University. They had come to Israel to take part in the annual Brandeis Summer Institute for Israel Studies, of which Rekhess is a teacher. He explained that the center’s programs “raise awareness, raise consciousness and impact policy studies.”

University of Texas system chancellor Mark Yudof expressed a desire to set up a process that would streamline the initiation of research contacts between the universities. Yudof’s thoughts mirrored those of the other chancellors and presidents, who agreed that an umbrella organization should be defined between American and Israeli campuses to circumvent what is perceived as overly-cautious US department of state travel warnings to Israel.

The visit to Israel also included lectures at other academic institutions as well as meetings with people such as Israel’s education minister Yuli Tamir, Israeli military experts and Bedouin and Druze leaders.

About Karin Kloosterman

Karin Kloosterman is an award-winning environment news publisher who founded Green Prophet (www.greenprophet.com) to connect North Americans to issues that matter in the Middle East. She is the CEO of the Internet of Things startup flux, a company that is making social grow tools for urban farmers everywhere (www.fluxiot.com). Karin can be reached at karin (at) fluxiot.com.