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Speeches and Essays 2004-05

Nandlal and Papu Tolani Foremost Benefactor Ceremony

Cornell University, August 5, 2005

Good evening everyone. Today has been an important day for the Tolani family and for Cornell. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. and Mrs. Tolani and their son, Rohet Tolani, this morning in my office. I am delighted that we could come together to continue the celebration tonight.

These festivities serve to highlight the long-standing bonds between the Tolani family and Cornell University; to showcase the many international endeavors centered in Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and to dedicate the Nandlal P. Tolani Senior Professorship in International Trade Policy, which promises to bring a new level of distinction to the college's Department of Applied Economics and Management and to expand and enhance our university's role in the world.

Tonight's program provides a wonderful finale to the celebrations of the day, and I am delighted that Cornell President Emeritus Dale Corson could be part of it. As some of you know, Dale Corson has been a close friend of the Tolanis since the 1960s, when "Lal" Tolani returned to Cornell to earn his doctoral degree. The Tolanis and the Corsons were neighbors during those years. Rohet Tolani, Nandlal's and Papu's son, and Janet Corson-Rikert, Dale's and Nellie's daughter, attended South Hill Elementary School together many years ago, and the friendship between the two families has flourished through the years.

Dale Corson has served as an advisor to Dr. Tolani in his efforts to establish several institutes and colleges in India, using Cornell as a model. Several years ago, Dale and Alan Merten, who was then dean of Cornell's business school and who is now president of George Mason University, traveled to India at Dr. Tolani's request to provide advice on launching a campus-based program in marine engineering. Today the educational activities developed by the Tolani Group meet the academic needs of more than 10,000 students in India, and they stand as a testament to the Tolanis' commitment to progress through education.

Dale hosted a luncheon for the Tolani family at the Statler Hotel earlier today, and I am delighted that he is here with us tonight. Dale, we'd be grateful if you would say a few words.

***

Thank you, Dale. It has been wonderful to hear more about your longtime friendship with Dr. and Mrs. Tolani, and how it has continued to blossom since the 1960s, when you were neighbors on Ithaca's South Hill. And it is inspiring to know how the years Dr. Tolani spent at Cornell, first as a master's student in the 1940s, and then as a Ph.D. student in the 1960s, have influenced his later life. They have been important to his business success, and they have guided his philanthropic spirit ever since.

Like your own friendship, Cornell's relationships with India and with the Tolani family have grown and prospered over the years. Cornell's first students from India arrived in Ithaca in the early 20th century. Today students from India are the fourth largest international student group at Cornell, and there are 10 India-related student organizations on campus. Nearly a third of Cornell's Indian students are enrolled in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, just as Dr. Tolani was while earning his Cornell degrees.

Cornell's South Asia Program is one of the nine federally funded National Resource Centers for South Asian Studies in the U.S. Our Kroch Library includes more than 290,000 volumes on South Asia, as well as books and films in Western and South Asian languages. Scholars from all over the world come to Cornell to utilize this material along with our own faculty and students.

Cornell faculty members travel to India frequently to conduct research, to teach, and to act as advisors on specific projects and to all levels of government. Cornell currently has eight active agreements with Indian institutions that are promoting collaborations in fields ranging from biotechnology to hotel management. There are collaborative projects in sustainable agricultural development, rice production, and genome mapping, and the Cornell Theory Center and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are collaborating on a project in computational agriculture that focuses on landscape-scale processes in India.

Two years ago, with a $300,000 grant, Cornell began to forge public-private links that will bolster agricultural productivity, exports, and rural incomes in India. The grant has enabled us to develop a course on "Agriculture in Developing Nations," which is being offered at Cornell and partner universities in India, utilizing the Web and video-streaming technology. The grant has also enabled us to create an executive development program in agricultural business management.

Just two weeks ago, I was in Washington, D.C. to sign an agreement with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that will expand Cornell's relationship with India into engineering and computing. The agreement will enable faculty in these areas, from Cornell and other leading American universities, to teach students in India using new distance learning strategies and EduSat. The agreement represents an important milestone in our growing connections to India.

I am delighted that with the dedication of the Nandlal P. Tolani Senior Professorship in International Trade Policy, Cornell's ties to India are destined to reach an even higher level. The Department of Applied Economics and Management has evolved from Cornell's historic strength in agricultural economics, which Dr. Tolani experienced firsthand during his days as a Cornell graduate student. It now includes instruction in general business, finance, and marketing and houses the Undergraduate Business Program, which is one of only two accredited undergraduate business programs in the Ivy League. With the added impetus provided by Dr. and Mrs. Tolani's gift, the department is poised for even greater leadership and contribution.

This evening it is our pleasure to recognize Lal and Papu Tolani in a formal way as Foremost Benefactors of Cornell, and I'd like to invite them both to join me at the table.

When Ezra Cornell gave his farm and fortune to establish Cornell University, he began a tradition of private benefaction that has remained at the heart of Cornell's excellence for 140 years. For many years now, the university, with the approval of the Board of Trustees, has chosen to honor those who follow Ezra Cornell's example of extraordinary generosity by naming them Foremost Benefactors of Cornell. Dr. and Mrs. Tolani, in recognition of your commitment to education and to philanthropy and especially in appreciation of your extraordinary generosity to Cornell, it is my pleasure to present you with this statue of Ezra Cornell, and to welcome you into a very special group of alumni and friends who are Foremost Benefactors of Cornell.