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Brandeis courts international reputation

The assignment in Brandeis graduate student Jory Crowell's global economics class last week was a paper on European decentralization.

A dry topic? Maybe. But it certainly helped that Crowell got last-minute tutoring on the topic from Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic and a leading opponent of a more centralized European Union.

''I've never met a president before and suddenly it's like, wow," said Crowell, who listened to Klaus speak Sept. 23 at the International Business School on the university's Waltham campus. Crowell is working toward a master's degree in business administration at the school.

The Klaus visit -- which also included a reception with students -- was a coup for this private, Jewish-sponsored university, founded in 1948, as it seeks to bring its academics to life with visits from high-profile politicians and business people.

For Brandeis's small, relatively new business school, that kind of distinction could prove crucial. Founded in 1994, the school began graduating MBA students in 2000.

Brandeis relaunched the school with a new name two years ago and has attempted to market it as a niche institute of worldly business education. No business school ranking is yet available, Brandeis officials said, because the school -- with nearly 300 full-time students -- is still undergoing its accreditation process.

Economics and finance student Damir Cosic, who hails from Bosnia, said he will have Klaus's thoughts on the Czech economic model in mind when he heads home to work in his country's Central Bank after graduation. In the meantime, the second-year student said he's pleased to see the school coming into its own with this kind of event, saying it ''puts us on the map."

Cosic and scores of other students gathered at Brandeis's sleek business school for the visit -- with the entire campus abuzz ahead of the arrival of Klaus, an economist and free-marketeer who also has served as the Czech prime minister.

Klaus has spoken out forcefully against a headlong integration into the European Union -- or other international organizations -- that might rob countries of their economic and political autonomy. He indicated, for example, that he is not a big supporter of the United Nations.

''There is more widespread dislike of what Europe has become than you might read in newspapers," Klaus told a packed auditorium at Brandeis. ''There is a huge gap between real and political Europe."

Klaus's reluctance to embrace a strong Europe may not have been shared by the entire audience, but his economic expertise certainly echoed among the students of the global economy who hail from 58 countries.

Some 60 percent of students at the International Business School are from outside the United States. That's nearly double, for example, the proportion in Harvard Business School's MBA class of 2007, which is 33 percent international, according to its website.

Brandeis has stated that its student body -- with graduate programs in fields like sustainable international development -- has become more and more international in recent years. Its undergraduate College of Arts of Sciences, however, is just 11 percent international, according to the school website.

Sam Pambah, a second-year MBA student from Kenya, said he decided to travel to the United States to get his business degree after getting a taste of American corporate culture working for Citigroup in Nairobi.

''One thing with the American educational system here [is that] you can harness it to its full potential and take it elsewhere," he said.

Around two-thirds of Brandeis's business school graduates find work in the United States, with a quarter going into investment banking, while others return to their countries of origin or head elsewhere.

''When you go out there looking for a job, you know the kind of people [you'll meet] and you've actually interacted with other cultures," Pambah said.

Those international exchanges, students say, don't just occur in the classroom, but in informal events like a Chinese New Year celebration, and in student groups with focuses that include emerging markets and corporate social responsibility.

Many students' living arrangements, too, reflect the ''Olympic Village" aspect touted by the school. French MBA student Celine Hubert lives with an American student in Cambridge. Hubert bills herself not as French or European, but simply ''international."

As an American student, Crowell said he doesn't mind being in the minority at Brandeis. ''It gets your mind thinking in a way that's international."

Brandeis also is seeking to draw in high-profile speakers beyond its business school to inject its academics with real-world immediacy.

This month, the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Nabil Fahmy, will headline a conference on the future of Palestinian-Israeli relations following the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

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