Tolani Professorship to strengthen Cornell's ties to India

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presents Nandlal P. Tolani, right, and Papu Tolani with a certificate to honor
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Dean of Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Susan Henry, left, presents Nandlal P. Tolani, right, and Papu Tolani with a certificate to honor the creation of the Nandlal P. Tolani Senior Professorship in International Trade Policy.

A pioneering benefactor of higher education in India has been honored with the naming of a permanent faculty chair at Cornell University. The Mumbai-based Tolani Shipping Co. Ltd. recently endowed the Tolani Senior Professorship in International Trade Policy in Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), the graduate alma mater of the company's chairman, Nandlal P. Tolani.

Tolani, his wife, Papu, and a host of other family members attended the Aug. 5 dedication of the professorship, part of a day that included a panel discussion by a cross section of CALS international experts, a luncheon hosted by Cornell President Emeritus Dale Corson and a celebration dinner at which President Hunter R. Rawlings presented Tolani with a bronze statue of Cornell's founder Ezra Cornell. Tolani's former professors were there, as were dozens of friends and family members who had traveled from across the United States and halfway around the world for the occasion.

Presiding over the dedication ceremony, Susan Henry, Cornell's Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences, opened her remarks by saying, "The college is honored by this generous and farsighted gift from the family of one of our most accomplished and distinguished alumni."

She later stated: "The establishment of the Tolani Senior Professorship in International Trade Policy will ensure that future graduates of our college have the opportunity to gain unique perspectives on international business and trade. This endowment will be especially helpful in that it provides not only for a senior professorship but also for the recruitment of an outstanding graduate fellow from India. Both can be expected to establish significant and lasting ties to academic, business and government leadership in India."

"This is an especially opportune time in U.S.-Asian relations for the Tolani Shipping Co. to endow this position for a senior trade economist at Cornell," noted William Lesser, the Susan Eckert Lynch Professor in Science and Business and chair of the Department of Applied Economics and Management in CALS. "Trade rules are changing rapidly, and the U.S. is anticipating that the World Trade Organization agreements from the past and current negotiating rounds will further open Indian markets to U.S. exports. At the same time, India seeks improved access to markets for higher-value products in the U.S. and other countries. The Tolani Professor will be prominently involved in furthering these goals."

Tolani received from CALS a master's degree in agricultural engineering and agricultural economics in 1947 and a doctorate in agricultural economics in 1964. In the intervening years, he and his father built a family empire from scratch.

Two months after Tolani finished his master's degree, his family lost all its financial assets when their home state of Sindh was split off in the Indian Partition to form part of Pakistan. In 1950 Tolani and his father, P.S. Tolani, founded Tolani & Co., a construction firm that was engaged primarily in building earthen dams for irrigation projects in western India. In the 1960s the company expanded into shipping and river transport and then into a variety of growth ventures before deciding in the 1980s to focus solely on shipping.

With the family's fortunes secure, P.S. Tolani began work in 1967 on an educational campus at Adipur, an impoverished township in western India. Through his leadership and that of his son, the Adipur complex has grown to incorporate eight educational and research entities, including colleges of arts and science, commerce, pharmacy, an eye hospital and research center and a center for the development of rural technology.

Nandlal Tolani also has established several other academic institutions in India, including a maritime institute that he hopes to develop into a university. More than 10,000 students are currently enrolled in Tolani educational institutions.

Corson, who met Tolani when they were neighbors in Ithaca in the early 1960s, traveled to India in 1996 to consult in the planning of the Tolani Maritime Institute. "He has a remarkable dedication to raising the level of education and improving the status of the Indian people," Corson said of Tolani. "He wants to build excellent universities. And for Lal, the model of the ultimate university is Cornell."

For more than 40 years, Tolani has maintained friendships not only with Corson but with his major professors, Bernard "Bud" Stanton, Daniel Sisler and Kenneth Robinson, and their families. Stanton, who supervised Tolani's doctoral thesis, remembers his enthusiasm for the lively interplay of ideas he found at Cornell and his kindness, generosity and genuine concern for others. "His motivation really has been to carry the best of the American university tradition back to India -- and to implement it," Stanton said.

As Tolani himself commented in a recent e-mail to the president's office: "... having experienced the great campus at Cornell, I nursed an ambition to establish a campus-based college in India. Having successfully accomplished that in recent years, I feel privileged to now be able to institute a permanent symbol of my association with Cornell, from where I have derived so much of my inspiration."