Yale and India

Ajay Gandhi in Economic and Political Weekly:

From January 2 to 8, 2005, Yale University’s president Richard Levin visited India. This unprecedented visit by the head of an elite American university signalled, in Levin’s words, that India was finally “emerging as a global economic and political power”. In between visits to the Indian prime minister and the chiefs of powerful Indian companies such as Infosys and Reliance Industries, Levin found time to lecture on Yale’s vision of ‘university citizenship’. Levin propounded with missionary zeal a notion of the ‘global university’ standing for ‘transcendent principles’ and embodying a ‘noble mission’. In so doing, he was continuing a tradition stretching back to Yale’s inception, whereby lofty rhetoric has disguised powerful self-interest.

Levin’s university is named after Elihu Yale, a fervid Anglican who served in the British East India Company (EIC) between 1670 and 1699 and was governor of Fort St George at Madras from 1687 to 1692. Yale’s history of support for missionary activities in the East Indies and Americas inspired a group of American Puritans in Connecticut to seek patronage for a college. His responsiveness culminated in a donation in 1718 towards the construction of the university’s first building, forever stamping it with his name. During his time in India, Levin noted Yale University’s commitment to educating ‘distinguished leaders’, and its focus on the “transparency and accountability of public and private institutions”. Curiously, Levin failed to mention Elihu Yale’s own record of leadership and accountability while in Madras. Yale’s governorship of Fort St George was marked not only by oppressive taxation and cruel punishments, but also by using the EIC’s power and money for personal gain, culminating in his dismissal in 1692.

More here. Thanks to my friend C.M. Naim for this article.