BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, chancellor of
India's Amrita University, received a State University of New York
Doctor of Humane Letters degree at a conferral ceremony May 25 in
Slee Hall on the University at Buffalo North Campus.
Affectionately known as Amma, she is recognized around the world
for the humanitarian institutions and services she has inspired and
supported over a span of three decades.
She is the founder and chancellor of Amrita University, a
leading private university in India with five campuses in three
southern Indian states.
UB President John B. Simpson and SUNY Trustee Eunice Lewin
awarded the honorary degree during a colorful ceremony that
included original music composed for the event, an Indian classical
dance performance, a video presentation of Amma's international
work, and music performed on UB's C.B. Fisk organ, one of the
premiere teaching organs on the East Coast.
"Through her leadership of Amrita University as well as through
her humanitarian work, Chancellor Amma exemplifies the value of
international collaboration and dedicated public service in the
global arena," said Simpson.
"Her personal example and leadership demonstrate the critical
importance of international and cross-cultural cooperation,
exchange and dialogue, and it is that spirit we honor Amma with the
conferral of the SUNY Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters."
Since 2006, UB has partnered with Amrita University on
collaborative activities that include dual-master's degree programs
in management and computer science designed to help fulfill India's
emerging need for highly trained managers in information
technology-enabled services. Additional programs in medicine and
social work are in development.
"Because of Chancellor Amma's vision, thoughtful leadership and
commitment to academic excellence, the University at Buffalo and
Amrita University faculty and students have benefitted from an
ambitious educational and research partnership," said UB Provost
Satish K. Tripathi.
"As the UB/Amrita partnership has grown, I know it has been
largely due to Amma's behind the scenes role in nurturing and
encouraging our institutional relationship. From the beginning, she
has seen the potential of this partnership for the benefit of our
respective universities and our faculty and students.
"Moreover, in these challenging times, it is heartening to know
that our students' worldview and life approach are expanded and
enriched through their appreciation of the transformational impact
of global humanitarian work which is modeled exquisitely by
Amma's SUNY honorary degree recognizes her extraordinary
humanitarian service and commitment to expanding educational
opportunities and international cooperation, noted Stephen Dunnett,
UB professor and provost for international education.
"Amma has been a leader in expanding educational opportunity in
India, particularly through the establishment of Amrita University,
which in its first 15 years has become one of the most
distinguished private universities in India," Dunnett said. "She
also is a strong proponent of Amrita's expanding cooperation with
U.S. institutions of higher education and she has placed particular
emphasis on the connection to UB, which has borne fruit in a number
In addition to her commitment to education, Amma is the founder
of Mata Amritanandamayi Math (MAM), a humanitarian organization
headquartered in Kerala, India, that oversees her charitable
activities in India and other nations, which include providing free
food and clothing programs for the needy, charitable hospitals,
hospices, free homes to the poor, orphanages, schools and
environmental-conservation programs, among others.
In 2004, Amma was among the first to set up relief efforts for
victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Her Amrita Tsunami Relief and
Rehabilitation Project provided food, clothing, medical assistance,
temporary and permanent housing, job training and other assistance
to victims living in India and Sri Lanka.
She is the recipient of numerous honors, including the James
Park Morton Interfaith Award of the Interfaith Center of New York
and the Gandhi-King Award for Non-Violence presented by the World
Movement for Non-Violence.
The degree conferral ceremony included the processional "Dance
of the Gods -- with Pomp and Circumstance," original music composed
for the occasion by Rahul Raj, a young composer from South India,
that featured Eastern and Western musical influences and
traditional Indian instruments, along with traditional Western
The ceremony also featured an organ performance by Roland
Martin, adjunct instructor of music, who performed "Offertoire,"
composed by Francois Couperin.
The program closed with a performance of Indian Classical dance,
"Vagadhiswari," which blends two traditional forms of Indian dance.
It was choreographed by Tejaswini Rao and performed by the dancers
from the Natya School of Indian Classical Dance in Buffalo, which
is directed by Rao.
SUNY honorary degrees -- proposed by UB and approved by the SUNY
Board of Trustees -- represent the highest form of recognition
accorded by SUNY, and are presented to individuals of exceptional
distinction, who have made contributions not only in their own
field, but have directly benefited SUNY and its member
Past recipients of SUNY honorary degrees at UB have included His
Holiness the Dalai Lama; Irene Zubaida Khan, secretary general of
Amnesty International; Herbert Hauptman, Nobel Laureate in
Chemistry; John Coetzee, Nobel Laureate in Literature; Philip
Glass, distinguished American composer; and Jane Goodall,
internationally acclaimed primatologist and educator.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, a flagship institution in the State University
of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus.
UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests
through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional
degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a
member of the Association of American Universities.