University presidents and leadership from campuses across the United States are
visiting Israel this week, on a trip sponsored by Project Interchange, an
educational institute of the American Jewish Committee.
delegation is headed by President Barbara R. Snyder of Case Western Reserve
University in Cleveland and David Warren, who heads the National Association of
Independent Colleges and Universities.
The goal of the trip is to expose
university officials to Israel’s political and societal climate, Sam Witkin,
Project Interchange’s executive director, told The Jerusalem Post
“Our goal here is to show the complexity of the region, going beyond the
“Project Interchange tries to show a nonideological view of
Israel to dive into complex issues without prejudice,” he said.
group, which arrived on Sunday, will meet with leaders from universities, NGOs
and government across Israel. On Thursday, they met with leaders from Al-Quds
University and the Hebrew University; they also spoke with Palestinian Authority
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah.
They will meet with President
Shimon Peres later this week.
“Our focus is not just on the peace
process, but also on higher education, budgets, technology and the economy,”
Witkin explained. “This is not a one-dimensional overview.”
Though only a
few days into the trip, Witkin said the delegation has already taken notice of
“how intense and complex life is here.
“They have been commenting on how
much knowledge they have gotten after just a few days. That knowledge gain is
our main goal.”
Witkin hopes the US university leaders will take this
knowledge back to their home campuses. “When confronted with issues on campus,
this knowledge gives them a broader intellectual base so they can have a proper
intellectual response,” he said.
President George E. Martin of St.
Edwards University in Austin, Texas, is already planning to put this knowledge
into action at his school. “The strategic plan is to greatly expand the global
learning opportunities for our students through cooperative arrangements by
2015. We’re basically re-doing our curriculum so that it addresses global
issues, none more important than the issue of Palestine and Israel in the Middle
He plans to meet with fellow faculty members to develop a program
that focuses on this issue during the 2012/13 academic year through
Edwards’s Kozmetsky Center of Excellence in Global Finance. “The
center develops an annual program that incorporates 1,000 students on campus and
involves the rest of the Austin community.”
Martin hopes to invite
speakers from around the world to address the Excellence in Global Finance
“I was lucky enough to meet with a St. Edwards alum today,” said
Dr. Martin, referring to Fayyad, who received his MBA from the university in
1980. “I hope to get him back to campus to speak with the St. Edwards
As president of the National Association of Independent
Colleges and Universities, Warren works with more than 1,000 schools across the
United States. He said he hopes his visit will lead to more academic exchange
programs between Israeli universities and their American
Warren said it was important to foster dialogue about the
He plans to focus his discussions back home on two key
issues. First, how the Arab Spring is and is not affecting Israel and
Second, he plans to discuss the “upcoming actions in September
at the UN” and the implications for the PA and Israelis.
theme I have seen throughout this visit is not only an enormous conviction about
need for peace, but also a sense of frustration for how difficult it is and how
it appears to be slipping away,” Warren said.
Dr. Barbara Snyder,
president of Case Western Reserve University and co-chairwoman of the
delegation, said cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli colleges is crucial
to a more peaceful Middle East.
“One of the things we’ve seen in the past
is a tremendous amount of collaboration among Palestinian, Israeli, American and
European universities,” she said. “I hope we can foster that atmosphere of
continuing to work together and contributing to society.”
that cooperation is one of higher education’s greatest abilities, Snyder
Universities “work across many difficult boundaries, and can host
difficult conversations. Facilitating those conversations is an important
part of our role and responsibility,” she said.