Legislator wants U to strengthen relations to India

by Courtney Blanchard

The University might soon get a bit closer to India.

State Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Eden Prairie, wants an India Center at the University, similar to the existing China Center, in order to expand research opportunities and cultivate a relationship with the rapidly developing country.

But some University officials and faculty members are concerned that a legislative mandate will interfere with the autonomy of the University.

Meredith McQuaid, the interim director for the University Office of International Studies, said she met with Paulsen Tuesday.

“He’s very farsighted,” she said. “It’s a very stimulating idea, but I just don’t know if an India Center, established through legislation, is a great idea this year.”

McQuaid said University officials are very interested in the idea, but it’s still a long way off. There needs to be an exploratory committee, and the University should establish a program that fits its own needs while also serving the state.

“(Paulsen) is basically getting conversation going,” she said.

That could be good news for some University faculty, who pushed for years to start an India Center.

Linguistics professor Indira Junghare said the University used to have a strong department of South Asian languages from 1972 to 1982. The University didn’t fund the department after it lost federal grants, scattering the faculty and reducing program options for students.

Since then Junghare has pushed for reinstating a similar department and sees opportunity with an India Center.

“We need a comprehensive center for India,” she said. “It shouldn’t just be service, but scholastic, too.”

Dr. Kumar Belani is a professor at the School of Public Health. He said the school is already involved with India and even established a clinic there for bone-marrow transplants.

“The University has a great vision of becoming global,” he said. “But it cannot have a relationship with every country to the same extent.”

He said it makes sense for the University to increase its presence in the rapidly growing country, with its many opportunities for students in medicine and other areas.

Student and faculty exchanges with India are valuable learning tools, especially at some of the larger clinics that perform 25 to 30 heart operations each day, he said.

“You can learn so much in a short amount of time,” Belani said.

Both Belani and Junghare emphasized the need to have a comprehensive center that incorporates business, health, agriculture, law and liberal arts.

Paulsen, who introduced a bill for the center Monday, said he didn’t think it would threaten the ability of the University to tailor the program to its needs.

“The University already conducts its own activities without the so-called mandate,” he said.

This bill will put the idea on the table, Paulsen said, especially since India is “off the radar” for many legislators.

He wants the center to bring faculty together from different departments at the University and possibly foster business relationships in the region.

“Minnesota has some opportunities to be more competitive,” he said. “It just makes sense.”