World View

Sherman Teichman, who has directed the Institute for Global Leadership for three decades with stunning success, is entering his final year on the job
Sherman Teichman
“I try to get my students thinking about conundrum issues, problems with seemingly no exit,” says Sherman Teichman, who will step down as director of Tufts’ Institute for Global Leadership in 2016. Photo: Alonso Nichols
September 10, 2015

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The modest three-story frame house at the edge of campus on Packard Street looks poised for liftoff as soon as you step inside. Banners, flags, golden plaques and framed photographs decorate every inch of the interior, and there’s a sense of imminent departure in the air. It’s not until Sherman Teichman whirls through the entry—dark eyes flashing, talking fast—and occupies the space that the assembled bits begin to cohere and make sense. As creator and director of the Institute for Global Leadership (IGL), now entering its 30th year, he is the source and enabler of this all.

Students pass through these doors on their way out into the great world. Global leaders, scholars and experts enter here to begin sustained conversations on pressing issues of the day. IGL enrolls and supports between 400 and 500 undergraduates and scores of graduate students a year, preparing many of them for challenging projects they will implement in their respective travels. At any given time, about 75 students are enrolled for academic credit.

This past summer, as a typical head count, 78 IGL-supported students were conducting research, exploring projects and participating in internships in 28 different countries.

But IGL is no travel agency, nor is its mission lighthearted in any way. From the start, when Teichman, a political science instructor, was dismayed by the 1985 terrorist hijacking of a TWA flight out of Cairo and quickly organized a campus symposium on international terrorism, the tenor has been as serious as the world itself. “I try to get my students thinking about conundrum issues, problems with seemingly no exit, like climate change, Gaza and the West Bank, the future of democracy, global refugees,” says Teichman, who will be stepping down as IGL director at the conclusion of this academic year. Provost David R. Harris will begin a search soon for his successor.

Hard Questions, Harder Answers

Heather Barry, J88, the associate director of IGL, has been with the program since her undergraduate days. She describes the process of guiding students through a program containing both research and experiential components. Students spend time studying a problem and designing an approach to it, writing “at least” a 20-page paper before going anywhere, she says. Then, once settled abroad, the testing part occurs. “Students have to ask themselves, Is what they’re thinking valid? Might their original idea be changed by the people they talk to? There are no easy answers out there,” says Barry. “You have to be willing to engage, reflect and then decide what your position is.”

Over the years, by keeping track of campus visitors and the people students encounter on their constant travels, IGL has cultivated a singular network of personal connections around the world. “There are very few places where we can’t assist students with someone who can help them,” Barry points out.

Students have ventured far and wide on exploratory missions. “We’ve had students at the Hague who attended hearings that decided that rape was a prosecutable war crime,” Teichman offers as one example. Another group went off to work closely with the judge who prosecuted former Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet. Several students are currently investigating Russian agricultural policy and will visit Russia soon.

The IGL program has developed offshoots at a steady pace since 1985. The parent operation now includes, among others, Inquiry (started in 1992), a public service initiative that links high school students from six states in a yearlong intellectual program mentored by Tufts undergraduates; Engineers Without Borders (2005), a collaboration with the School of Engineering that aims to bring sustainable development projects to communities around the world; and the Program for Narrative and Documentary Practice (2011), which trains students to translate global issues into compelling multimedia stories.

ALLIES (Alliance Linking Leaders in Education and the Services), launched in 2006, reveals the process of developing a typical new initiative. “Students came to us and said there wasn’t a place where they felt they could understand the military’s role,” Barry relates, “so we started this program to help break down misunderstandings between the two groups.”

IGL students now routinely travel to the three service academies—West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy—for discussion and role-playing exercises. Service members, in turn, visit the Tufts campus to extend the conversation. 

Even-Handed Discourse

The world is starved for that kind of engagement, and IGL supplies the meal. Its signature program, EPIIC (Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship), takes up a different global theme each year and is entirely organized and run by students. A random selection of past programs is tantalizing to consider: “Covert Action and Democracy” (1988), “The Militarization of the Third World” (1990), “Oil and Water” (2005), “Dilemmas of Empire and Nation Building” (2009) and “Our Nuclear Age: Peril and Promise” (2011). Participating speakers have included the president of Iraq, linguist and political theorist Noam Chomsky, Secretary of State John Kerry, the general who defended Sarajevo during the Bosnian War and South African civil rights activist Desmond Tutu. 

Why would a roster of such luminaries bother to make their way to Medford, Massachusetts, for the chance to be heard? It’s not for the money, since no honoraria are paid. Teichman maintains that speakers come because Tufts and IGL have earned a reputation for fair and even-handed discourse. There’s no ideology underlying the annual symposium. Instead, it’s about honest mutual engagement and a heritage that goes back 30 years to the initial program on international terrorism that had a former head of the CIA, the director of the FBI and Third World activists sitting side by side.

The tradition of EPIIC so impressed Board of Trustee member Robert R. “Bobby” Bendetson, A73, A13P, A17P, A18P, that he and his wife, JoAnn, decided to endow the program and name it for his parents—it is now called the Norris and Marjory Bendetson EPIIC Symposium—about a decade ago. Bendetson attended an EPIIC event and came away stirred by “the intellectual capacity” evident in the enterprise. “To bring in people from around the world and talk about issues, and not only from the American perspective, well, that’s just a great idea,” he says.

Among national plaudits, the Carnegie Corporation of New York has recognized IGL with substantial grant funding over the past two years, and just recently extended support into the current academic year, a move that is extremely rare at the undergraduate level. After attending an EPIIC presentation in 2013, Patricia Nichols, project manager for Carnegie’s International Program, wrote to Teichman, “Only a few endeavors I know of in my decades of philanthropy work incubate in your innovative and intergenerational ways.”

Other campus visitors have shared her excitement. Trudy Rubin, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, attended an EPIIC forum in 1997. She conveyed its spirit tellingly in her subsequent column. “Judging by the students I met, EPIIC works and in ways that offer a model for other universities that want to expand the way their students think about the world,” Rubin wrote. “The key seems to be in EPIIC’s unique combination of idealism and practical involvement, which not only plunges students into direct contact with the problems and people they are studying, but makes them grapple with intellectual issues as well.”

Keeping It Complicated

A world-class event run by students may sound unlikely, but Matan Chorev, A05, F07, confirms the practice. “Sherman and Heather give students guidance, but it’s up to them to design and implement the symposium,” says Chorev. “The students sell the tickets, send out the invitations and set up the AV. They introduce the speakers and moderate the panels. It’s quite common for panels to go late into a Friday or Saturday night—but you can count on the auditorium being packed.”

Chorev is one who is quick to credit IGL with having changed his life. Born in Israel, he came to the U.S. at age 9. In his first week of college, the trauma of 9/11 occurred, and his professional career plans underwent a gradual transformation—away from a life as a professional cellist toward a life in international relations. “That was when an interest became a passion,” he says.

In his sophomore year, working with other students, Chorev helped launch an organization called New Initiatives for Middle East Peace, or NIMEP. This was much more than some informal, primarily social club. As Chorev explains, “Rather than be campus activists, we wanted to engage in intensive learning.” In its first two years, NIMEP members went on fact-finding trips to Israel and the West Bank, Iran, Egypt and Turkey, and they have continued to provide a forum for dialogue and mutual learning in the decade since.

NIMEP had Teichman’s full-hearted approval. “Institutions of higher learning tend to be conservative institutions—they have a certain pedagogy and they like to stick to it,” observes Chorev, who, since graduating from Fletcher, has worked abroad and in Washington in a variety of diplomatic roles and currently serves as chief of staff at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “But ‘no’ was a word that Sherman didn’t know. He’d force you to think deeply and hard. That was very special. He’d work with us at all hours, at night and on weekends. If you told him something, he’d say, ‘OK, that’s one theory, but have you seen this?’ and then he would literally toss books at us. He liked to make things more complicated.”

An accomplished cello player during his college days and a student in the university’s joint-degree program with the New England Conservatory, Chorev likens the gist of his education at IGL to what he already knew about effective tutoring in music. “A good teacher does not just teach you how to play a particular piece of music. He teaches you how to practice so that you can play any piece. That’s what Sherman did for his students: He taught us how to think.”

Running all through Teichman’s belief in his students like a vein of granite is his absolute faith that they will deliver. This trait wasn’t lost on Jennifer Selendy, J90. Coming to Tufts from Belfast, Maine, as a self-described “small-town kid with enormous aspirations,” she responded eagerly to this element of the IGL program as embodied in its charismatic leader. “You can’t fake the kind of confidence he had in us,” she says quietly. Selendy ate it up. “Sherman introduced me to new magazines and sources of news from outside the U.S. that were eye-opening to me. He allowed us to push and explore in all directions. Sherman was very intense, bright, passionate, and we students had to work hard to keep up with him.”

After graduation, Selendy was a Marshall Scholar at the University of Oxford for two years and then a top student at Harvard Law School. Now a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, a large New York City law firm, she says she uses what she learned during her time at IGL—that is, the experience of hearing, absorbing and balancing disparate and often dramatically opposed points of view—on a regular basis. “In my profession, collaborative problem-solving is a top skill,” she notes. “The question becomes: Can you work with people whose ideas you don’t agree with and be productive?”

That gift came from IGL. And Sherman Teichman, 71, a man who was born to a paternal Holocaust survivor and has been concerned with tackling huge questions his whole life—“It’s in my DNA,” he offers, shrugging—laid the foundation stones.

Bruce Morgan can be reached at bruce.morgan@tufts.edu.