A delegation of nine presidents and chancellors from US universities visited Israel this week with the goal of investigating opportunities for bilateral academic partnerships and collaborations with institutions including Tel Aviv University, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Among the visitors were representatives of the Texas State University System; Barnard College; University of California, Berkeley; Kennesaw State University, Georgia; The Lincoln University, Pennsylvania; Northeastern Illinois University; Portland State University; and The Rockefeller University.

During the visit, which was organized by Project Interchange, the American Jewish Committee’s educational institute, the delegation participated in a series of meetings in areas relevant to their institutions such as brain science, environmental sustainability, biotechnology, diversity and women’s leadership. The visitors met with government representatives at the Knesset as well as Palestinian leaders in the West Bank.

For the 13th president of The Lincoln University, the oldest degree-granting African-American university in the US, Dr. Robert R. Jennings, the trip was the first time he visited Israel.

“I’ve been to countries all over the world, and this was on my bucket list [things to do before you die],” he told The Jerusalem Post this week, “I wanted to see first hand the place where the person I call my savior walked when he was alive.”

Jennings explained that as The Lincoln University has already been engaging in many international initiatives with academic institutions around the world building up into a global institution. After meetings with several higher education professionals and visiting universities, Jennings told the Post he is “very optimistic” about the possibility of doing exchanges with Israeli universities.

“After hearing from people, seeing demonstration of technology and research, I walked away understanding that there are high quality people here who take their fields very seriously,” he explained. “I even learned that most individuals I met here have studies in many places in the world, but they’ve also all done postdoctoral studies in some of the top institutions in the US. And I have no doubt that there is a very high quality of education and faculty here.”

Beyond the academics, Jennings, who has studied himself in several countries, sees the possibility of sending his students to Israel as a significant personal experience and a true mind-opener.

He reminisced about his time as an exchange student in Ghana 40 years ago thinking that he would be able to see animals running around the streets. He remarked that our beliefs about a place are generally based on television, and by traveling to Israel, for example, many could erase the preconceived notions that the students learn from the media.

“I came here expecting that I would feel unsafe, but I see that it’s not how it is at all,” he said.

When asked whether students would fear coming to live in Israel, Jennings answered that parents would be more concerned than students.

“What I do have concerns about, and was quite shocked to see, was the West Bank wall [security barrier],” Jennings continued. “I asked myself where are young people in this equation of bringing about a two-state solution? Where are their voices?” “With social media today, I’m a little appalled that we don’t have a Martin Luther King here to stand up and say enough is enough,” he said. “I know young people in America wouldn’t let that go on for very long. I’m surprised that social media hasn’t played more of a role in making young people rise.”

Jennings told the Post that once back in the United States, he would work to advance an exchange initiative between The Lincoln University and Israeli institutions with the person in charge of international programs at the university. He plans to hold a session with students to tell them about his experience.

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