A new life for ASRC

MEETING GROUND: The Center attracts scholars from around the globe.  

THERE IS good news for those who despaired of the closure of the American Studies Research Center, (ASRC), Hyderabad, home to several generations of scholars. The institute had tragically ceased operation recently. It was an academic misfortune that was greeted with all-round consternation; the step seemed inevitable when the official American support through the PL 480 rupee reserve, based on the American grain sale to India during the Fifties and the Sixties, as well as support through the USIS, ran out.

By 1999, a new director Carolyne Elliot came with a specific mandate: to seek a turn around of the financially crippled institution with the help of Indian government agencies and the corporate world.

Elliot's efforts came a cropper. And under the last director, Richard Cohen, plans for downsizing the staff and eventual closure began to be implemented.

Thanks to the money saved from an earlier Ford Foundation Grant, the library and the guesthouse were kept open with the help of a skeletal staff! With the Americans gone from the scene, several rounds of negotiations were conducted by the acting director, Professor Isaac Sequeira, a long-time associate with the centre and a distinguished academic, with various agencies, the private and the State Government, the university system, the UGC and the MHRD. At one stage, hope brightened with an interest shown by the Manipal Academy of Higher Education of the T.A. Pai Foundation. The idea was to use the centre and its premises to start an MBA programme catering to NRIs and foreign nationals. The former American ambassador to India, Frank Wisner's proposal to use the ASRC as a `green business centre' was stoutly opposed by the loyal users of the library.

The lack of interest in funding the centre by Indian agencies was bit of a puzzle. Set up in 1964 at the invitation of a farsighted Vice-Chancellor of the Osmania University, D.S. Reddy, who gave the centre land on the sprawling O.U. campus, over the years, the ASRC had become a reputed academic ashram attracting scholars from all parts of India and neighbouring countries.

With an impressive collection of printed books of more than 140,000 along with an incredibly large holding of micro films, micro fiche, films, video and audio cassettes, CD-Roms and world class conference halls, the centre attracted, at its height, around 22,000 users per year. Next to Berlin, it came to be known as the best centre for American studies in the world.

Mercifully, the Indian government saw reason. With influential intermediaries like professor Amrik Singh and others, Isaac Sequeira undertook several rounds of discussions with the MHRD/UGC. A high-powered committee was constituted by the Government of India (GOI) to visit the centre and submit a report. Later, a committee comprising the Vice-Chancellors of three leading universities of Hyderabad: the Osmania, the CIEFL and the University of Hyderabad, along with representatives from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), officials from the MHRD, and the UGC got together in Delhi to review the report. The good news was that the UGC was asked to take over the ASRC and fund its programmes under a new name, a fresh management, a new charter and a new mandate.

Accordingly, on December 28, 2002, on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the University Grants Commission at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee dedicated the new centre, named as the Inter University Center for International Studies (IUCIS) to the nation.

"It is a matter of great satisfaction to me personally," said Professor Isaac Sequiera who had spearheaded, despite great odds, the efforts to save the centre. "I was keen to see that American Studies be retained as part of international relations. Secondly, it was important that the existing life membership should continue along with the present staff."

Fortunately, the first, as Sequeira indicated, has been retained, while negotiations are on for the other two. An Officer on Special Duty is expected to take over charge soon. From the ASRC to the IACIS and now the IUCIS, what's in a name! What is important is that the academic ashram on Osmania University campus should continue, as before, to attract scholars far and wide. That will be the fittest tribute to a set of visionaries, the Indians and the Americans, who lent their support to an institution for furthering international understanding.


The writer is a Professor of English Literature at the University of Hyderabad.