By Ben Tinsley
In place of original plans to create a full “peace university” campus in Nazareth, Texas A&M University officials have instead decided to team up with the University of Haifa to establish a $5.5 million Mediterranean observatory.
This collaboration is fantastic news to many of the Jewish students who attend Texas A&M, said Matt Rosenberg, campus rabbi and executive director of Texas A&M Hillel.
Rabbi Rosenberg said Jewish students could soon have the opportunity to develop a closer relationship with Israel — with possible new programs that might provide undergraduate students the chance to study abroad and Hebrew classes that might be introduced on the Texas A&M campus.
Further, this collaboration could go a long way toward making a strong statement against practitioners of the divisive Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Rabbi Rosenberg said.
“Those in the BDS effort try to divert people to not have anything to do with Israel — but this does the exact opposite,” he said. “This is going to be the pathway — it’s going to open up the door to more cooperation with Israel.”
Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp discussed the change in direction with reporters at a news conference last month. He explained that Texas A&M leaders were uncomfortable with the amount of control officials there were seeking to have over the proposed Nazareth campus.
“I think we can say that we did everything that we could in good faith and good form or fashion to pursue that,” Sharp stated at the news conference. “ … We can’t put Texas A&M out there and not call all of the academic shots.”
Chancellor Sharp said this teaching and research partnership is a critical step for Texas A&M University on its way to becoming a $1-billion-a-year research giant.
“Who wouldn’t want to work with Israel — literally the subject of the book Start-up Nation — where innovation is not only necessary, it is valued?” he asked.
Sharp was not immediately available for follow-up questions. They were instead fielded by Chad Wootton, associate vice president for external affairs, who shared with the TJP copies of news releases about the subject that had been issued by the university.
Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young, who signed the underlying “memorandum of understanding” between A&M and University of Haifa, described the project as a prime example of Texas A&M’s leadership in addressing the global challenges of today.
“It is this type of partnership among our faculty and their colleagues around the world at leading institutions, such as the University of Haifa, that will bring about knowledge needed for lasting change,” Young stated.
University of Haifa officials agreed.
“This collaboration with one of the biggest and best universities in the United States strengthens the role of the University of Haifa as the leading university in Israel in the field of marine sciences,” said Amos Shapira, president of the University of Haifa, whose comments were included in a release stemming from the news conference. “Our understanding on what is happening in the deep water around Israel’s shores is one of strategic importance because the sea is the future of the state of Israel and all of humanity.”
The new agreement will be known as the “Texas A&M – University of Haifa Eastern Mediterranean Observatory.” The observatory will be located at the University of Haifa with access to critical Mediterranean coastal regions, while also drawing on instrumentation and analytical expertise of Texas A&M University faculty and their similar research initiatives in the Gulf of Mexico.
Morel Groper, adjunct associate professor at the University of Haifa’s Hatter Department of Marine Technologies, said in a telephone and email interview from Israel that the expected academic and research collaboration would elevate the teaching-through-research missions of both universities in a truly international manner.
“Scientists at the University of Haifa recognized the knowledge and experience currently existing at the Texas A&M University in the subject of ocean science in general and the development of ocean observatories in particular and were excited when the cooperation agreement between both Universities was initiated particularly the agreement to establish the ‘Texas A&M – University of Haifa Eastern Mediterranean Observatory,’ ” Professor Groper said.
Professor Groper said the observatory, a shore-based facility to be established at the University of Haifa, will receive and transmit data from two moorings in the Levant Basin of the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
University of Haifa officials and faculty were successful in receiving the first of these permissions among the many entities that share governance responsibilities in the Mediterranean Sea to allow this research, he said.
Starting this year, implementation is expected to involve as many as 20 faculty members from the two institutions. That number is expected to grow as the information is used in multi-disciplinary research, Groper said.
The observatory will compare information pulled from the Mediterranean with data collected in the Gulf of Mexico. It could be just as powerful as a full-on peace university, officials said.
The arrangement is expected to build on existing teaching and research in the Gulf of Mexico and capitalize on the oceanographic and atmospheric strengths of the two institutions.
The research it is expected to provide could help tackle some of the most pressing issues facing mankind, from climate change to natural disasters and food insecurity, Texas A&M officials said.
While separated geographically by half the planet, the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea are viewed as similar bodies of water and thus provide unique opportunities for comparative analysis of their related impacts on the environment, industry and people of their regions.
The strategic and scientific venture connects common environmental interests of the two university sites through the monitoring and comparison of processes associated with two similar bodies of water — the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Led by faculty of the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University, the project will be multidisciplinary, drawing on expertise from various fields and disciplines.
“Understanding how the ever-changing oceans, biota and atmosphere affect humankind is one of the great global challenges of the next several decades, and scientists at both universities are addressing the challenge by sharing resources,” said Kate Miller, dean of the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University.
Dr. Tony Knap, director of the Geochemical and Environmental Research Group, professor of oceanography and Texas A&M University’s principal investigator for the endeavor, said the role that oceans play in storing and releasing heat, the consequent effects on sea level and precipitation on land and the relationship between water availability and energy all are key in “effectively managing the health, safety and financial well-being of our societies.”
Meanwhile, Rabbi Rosenberg said he hopes this collaboration leads to more and more involvement between the Texas A&M and University of Haifa.
“It could be phenomenal,” he said, “Students are excited to have this chance.”