Yale Daily News

The University is exploring future partnerships with South Asia, University President Peter Salovey told the News.

The President’s Council on International Activities will be reviewing existing and potential future academic partnerships in the South Asia region next month, including in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, according to Salovey. The South Asia region notably lacked prominent mention in Yale’s most recently released global strategy report. 

The Council on International Activities is a group of presidentially appointed members — including the likes of Barbara Bush ’04 and Fareed Zakaria ’86 — who provide a “source of ideas for developing the University’s international agenda.” According to Vice Provost for Global Affairs Steven Wilkinson, the group will be “seeking advice and support for our future engagement with the region.”

“Our goal is to figure out where we have gaps,” Salovey said. “Our goal is to figure out additional partnerships we can do with universities in South Asia, especially India.”

The news comes in the wake of the revelation that the University will be taking a step back from larger global initiatives amid the imminent closure of Yale-NUS and focusing on faculty-led partnerships. 

But Salovey emphasized that the University does not plan to build campuses in the area anytime soon. In January, Yale made international headlines when Indian prime minister Narendra Modi announced that he would take steps to allow schools such as Yale to build campuses in India. 

“I doubt we’ll build campuses,” Salovey said. “I think it’s not our way of doing partnerships.”

Salovey’s interest in South Asia is not isolated to the Council’s meeting. Over the past few months, University faculty, administration and affiliates have quietly been renewing ties with academic centers as well as alumni chapters in the region.

Traveling to visit “dormant” alumni clubs 

In January, a delegation of Yale faculty and administrators completed the University’s first official visit to India in three years, and stopped by Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai for alumni reunions. Those in attendance included University faculty and staff, leadership and the South Asian Studies Council.

History professor Rohit De said that the trip was intended to inform Indian academics and the University’s growing body of alumni in the region about the advances of South Asian studies at Yale.  

“One reason [for the trip] was to showcase and communicate to our various constituencies that over the years, especially over the last few years, Yale really has emerged as the leading institute in North America that studies modern South Asia,” De said. “Over the past few years — in economics, history, religion, and literature — our faculty has expanded and the kind of work we’re doing has grown both in its diversity and methodological variety.”

According to Wilkinson, the receptions are also intended to galvanize alumni communities, including the Yale Club of India, which “had fallen dormant” in the wake of the pandemic.

“While the India Club has been sort of trying to do things by themselves, there hasn’t been a direct engagement with the University for a while, and I think this was in some ways a really good event, not just for Yale’s institutional links to the region, but also to get the alumni to meet and recognize each other,” De concurred.

Daevan Mangalmurti ’24, a student fellow at the South Asian Studies Council, worked at the three alumni receptions held over the course of the council’s January trip to India and said that each event was “a way to say ‘the Yale Club of India is here.’”

He also said that he hopes the University continues to offer academic programs focused on South Asia to undergraduate students,  graduate students, visiting faculty and faculty already at Yale. He said that Chair of the South Asia Council Sunil Amrith, for instance, just joined faculty a few years ago but has already done meaningful work to encourage student engagement. 

“What is really positive is that the council over the past two years, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, has really ramped up its efforts to engage with students and to bring in a lot of really exciting faculty, ” Mamgalmurti said. “More research, more engagement — all of those things are already happening, and I hope that they’ll continue to happen.”

Faculty-led initiatives

In November 2022, economics professor Rohini Pande visited Nepal to celebrate the launch of Inclusion Economics Nepal at Governance Lab. 

Launched last February, Inclusion Economics is a research initiative which sees Yale economists partner with governments and universities across the region to review societal inequalities. Nepal and India are two countries where Yale researchers have gone to collaborate with local researchers.

“These are in some ways completely independent centers where they are, ” Pande said. “We share a common interest in the research and the work we do, but it’s only inclusion economics at Yale which is a Yale entity. The ones in Nepal and India are completely local institutions. So what we were doing when we were in Nepal was I have with some of my colleagues, a set of ongoing research projects that we conduct in collaboration with local partners based at Inclusion Economics Nepal at the governance lab, so I was there to continue those discussions.”

Pande isn’t the only professor whose academic ties to South Asia will be to the University’s advantage. The Y-Rise initiative, run by economics professor Musfiq Mobarik, will review Bangladesh through the lens of political science and anthropology. And in collaboration with Pande, Amrith has organized development dialogues to discuss the region.

A recent history

In 2008, former University president Richard Levin unveiled the Yale India Initiative, which committed $75 million, endowed professorships, and university-wide resources to the study of South Asia at Yale in an effort to broaden India-related study in the liberal arts and sciences, as well as in Yale’s professional schools.

“Since that time, we have made what I think is amazing progress, to the point where Yale has one of the strongest faculties covering contemporary South Asia anywhere,” Wilkinson told the News.

Today, the South Asian Studies Council includes 48 faculty who are working on the region, according to Wilkinson.

Amrith hopes that Yale’s breadth of its interests in South Asia and contact and communication across fields that takes place on campus is reflected in any future endeavors the University takes on in South Asia. He also emphasized the importance of further expanding opportunities to study South Asia at Yale. 

“One of my big aims is really to see how to attract students to our classes who see that actually, you know, I don’t particularly have an interest in South Asia or prior interest, but I’m really interested in the problem of inequality or I’m really interested in climate change, and I understand that actually South Asia is a really interesting place to study these universal problems, ” Amrith said. “And so, you know, I would be very keen over the medium term to see us, you know, make sure that South Asia is just sort of present and well represented in very different parts of the college curriculum.”

De said that a lot of the research conducted on South Asia in the past has been “unidirectional,” where academics based in the West would go and study regions and bring back the knowledge for consumption in the U.S. Academy. He hopes that things work differently going forward.

“I think we are looking for a way where work is done in partnership and the research is not just produced for consumption in the U.S. Academy, but also sort of filters back and engages with questions in India, ” De said. “And I think one of the key features here is to work with scholars based in South Asia and institutions based in South Asia as well, and I think there should be conversations where we’re one part of it.”

According to the most recent data from the World Bank, 1.9 billion people live in South Asia, which is roughly 24 percent of the world population.

Benjamin Hernandez covers Woodbridge Hall, the President's Office. He previously reported on international affairs at Yale. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, he is a sophomore in Trumbull College majoring in Global Affairs.
William Porayouw covered Woodbridge Hall for the News and previously reported on international strategy at Yale. Originally from Redlands, California, he is an economics and global affairs major in Davenport College.