Monday, June 18, 2007

Prof. Subra Suresh

MIT has announced that Prof. Subra Suresh will be the Dean of its School of Engineering from July 2007.

Suresh is a 1977 graduate from IIT-M. He was on the faculty of Brown University's Division of Engineering before moving in 1993 to MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering. He was also the Chairman of that Department during 2001-06.

Suresh was a visiting professor at our Institute in 2004; I recall four absolutely fantastic lectures he gave during his visit: one each in our Department and MRC, and two more in the Workshop on Mechanical Behaviour of Systems at Small Length Scales.

Some years ago, when Dipak Jain took over as the Dean of Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, there was a lot of excitement in our business dailies. MIT is about as high-profile as it gets in tech-dom, and the choice of a scientist of Indian origin as its Dean is certainly newsworthy in India. So far, ToI, HT and DNA have covered this story.


  1. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Actually, I don't agree that it should be newsworthy. He's not an Indian, he's an American, and it's not some sort of prize or award, it's a position at his workplace which someone must occupy. Is his place of birth or ancestry enough to make it newsworthy?

    I wonder if, for example, Irish newspapers obsess about the exploits of Irish-Americans the way we do about Indian-Americans. I find it pretty annoying. (The most irksome case was of Bobby Jindal some years ago: the story had absolutely no relevance to India but was thrust down one's throat every day.)

  2. Anonymous said...


    I think a number of people looking at Indian society (Wilhelm Halbfass, Edward Shils, Andre Beteille etc.) have made the point that since the coming of modernity to India (via colonialism), the "standard" of reference for Indian intellectuals was the West...Even when Indian intellectuals opposed the West, it (the West) still remained the standard of reference. And it continues to remain so.

    In that context, the achievement of Indian intellectuals "in the West" has a special significance, I signifies that "one of us" can compete in the West on equal terms. To be frank, I too am and have been irked by the Indian media playing up the achievements of people of Indian origin. Another example in this regard is S. Chandrasekhar. Now, he was one who very clearly identified himself as an American - *NOT* Indian-American. (He never denied his Indian heritage but he was clear about his identity.) Yet, we (I mean all of us in India including the media) continued to play up his achievements as if they were of an "Indian."

    I think this trend will continue at least for the foreseeable future.


  3. gaddeswarup said...

    While I agree with the general sentiments expressed in the posts by Rahul and Suresh,
    I am curious about the sources for the impressions about S.Chandrasekhar. A quick goole search led to which shows (for example on page 4) his interest in Indian science. If possible, pl. give the sources but it is not a big priority. Thanks.

  4. Abi said...

    Well, Rahul, I am not sure I would agree with you. If a person of Indian origin wins a Nobel, there is quite a bit of celebration here. But I do agree with you on Bobby Jindal; I too found the hype about him irritating.

    Given the huge distance between a Chandra and a Jindal, don't you agree that MIT Deanship is a lot closer to the Nobel than to small time politics in the US. ;-)

    Suresh, I'm not sure "West" has anything to do with this; an Indian being elevated to some really high position in Beijing or Kyoto University would also be newsworthy.

    [The newsworthiness of this event also has a lot to do with MIT. A Stevens Tech or a Michigan Tech would not attract so much attention.]

    Having said this, I must admit that I too will be irked if the Indian press plays this up, say, after about a month!

    Swarup: Thanks for that link. Wali's biography also gives the impession that Chandra had a keen interest in -- and reasonably deep engagement with -- Indian science.

  5. Anonymous said...

    Interestingly neither of Prof Suresh's alma mater (IIT-M/Iowa State Univ) features this news on their website.

  6. Anonymous said...


    With all due respect, I think Rahul is on the money here. As he says, someone has to occupy the post, so if it is not Prof. Suresh, then it will be someone else. What makes Prof. Suresh's occupying the MIT post so special? Merely because he is of "Indian" origin? That seems a poor reason.

    And it is not only in academics. Just to take an example at random, why is so much importance attached to "Vikku" Vinayakram winning a Grammy?