University President Richard Levin’s annual weeklong trip to India, from which he returned Friday night, was marked by small meetings with government education officials, CEOs of major Indian companies, major media outlets and even former President George W. Bush ’68.
Levin has taken a trip to India every fall since 2008, with the stated purpose of fostering connections between the country and the University. While Levin has delivered speeches in front of large audiences and given more than 20 interviews on a single trip in the past, this year he spoke with smaller audiences that consisted of high-ranking officials and prominent media members — a shift that two University officials on the trip said evidenced Yale’s success in building its reputation in India.
“There is much greater name recognition,” professor K. “Shivi” Sivaramakrishnan, director of the Yale India Initiative, wrote to the News in a Sunday night email from New Delhi. “We are able to go straight into smaller but more high-powered meetings with government, business leaders, and leaders in higher education and civil society to talk about the work is Yale is doing and explore new partnerships and programs.”
Levin has travelled to India for a week every year since 2008, when he announced the Yale India Initiative — a $75 million program to increase the study of India at Yale and the name recognition of Yale in India. During past trips, Levin has spoken at the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit and worked with Indian officials on a partnership designed to train the nation’s higher education administrators.
The small meetings Levin held throughout the week built on the work Levin had done in previous trips to India.
Levin has spoken to large audiences for the past two years at a higher education summit held by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), which helps fund India’s public and private educational institutes and includes some participants in Yale’s administration training program. This year, Levin said he opted to meet with FICCI’s board of directors — a far smaller group but made up of higher ranking officials — for what he said was a change of pace.
George Joseph, Yale’s assistant secretary for international affairs, said Levin’s choice to speak to the FICCI board shows that he has gained respect among the upper echelons of Indian officials.
“I think that’s a reflection that his profile here has gotten much greater, so we have access to people that we would not have had access to earlier,” Joseph said in a phone interview from New Delhi. “The kinds of people that want to interact with him are at a much higher level.”
Earlier in the week, Levin also met with Bush after realizing that the two were staying in the same hotel in Mumbai. Though Levin declined to comment on the majority of his conversation with the former president, he said the two discussed Barbara Pierce Bush’s ’04 program for global health interns in Africa, which held its training program at Yale during summer 2011.
Along with meeting famous organizations and officials, Levin was thrust into the national media spotlight during his week in India. He participated in two 30-minute segments with India’s CNBC television stations in Mumbai and New Delhi, and Joseph said one of those segments has played during prime time throughout the week. Four prominent Indian newspapers — The Times of India, the Hindustan Times, the Business Standard and the Indian Business Times — also interviewed Levin over the course of the week. During his interview with CNBC in Mumbai, Levin discussed the current economic downturn, but he declined to comment on his potential appointment to lead the National Economic Council, which received media attention in December 2010 and January 2011.
In between meetings, Levin said he worked on recruiting an unnamed person to the Yale faculty.
Though Levin left India on Friday, eight Yale faculty members have remained in the country to attend other conferences and meetings. Joseph said several Yale faculty, including Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies Dean Peter Crane and School of Architecture Dean Robert Stern, plan to attend the Nov. 22 India Urban Conference, which addresses urban development in the densely populated country.
Levin spent the first half of his trip in Mumbai, meeting primarily with small groups of Yale alumni, parents and donors, and the second half in the nation’s capital of New Delhi.