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The Eulogizer: Economist Igor Birman, university president Milton Glick

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Read previous columns here.

Igor Birman, 82, economist

Igor Birman, a Russian emigre economist who virtually predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union years before its fall, died April 6 at his home in suburban Washington. Birman, who was considered iconoclastic and out of step until he was proven correct by history, was 82.

Birman had been a high-ranking economist in the Soviet Union before immigrating to the United States in 1974. In a 1980 Washington Post essay, Birman took issue with widely accepted CIA estimates of Soviet economic successes and said that the Soviet standard of living was barely one-quarter that of the United States.

He was widely criticized at the time for daring “to challenge the liberal establishment.” U.S. government experts “widely believed the Soviet economy was stable and growing.” Nonetheless, Birman ended up shortly afterward working as a U.S. government contractor. He gave briefings at the Defense Department, and later founded and edited a scholarly journal about the Soviet Union as head of the Foundation for Soviet Studies.

Igor Yakovlevich Birman was born in Moscow and received a doctorate in economics from the Statistical Institute in 1949. He worked for the Soviet government as an industrial economist and was a member of the Commission on Economic Reform in the 1960s.

In the years after his move to the U.S., Birman wrote about Soviet Jewish emigration, saying that pressure to immigrate to the U.S. outweighed the interest in moving to Israel, but American Jewish groups bowed to Israeli pressure to steer emigres toward Israel, which slowed down their overall departure. Only when that changed, he said, did Soviet Jewish emigration begin in earnest.

In later years, after perestroika, Birman was able to return to the Soviet Union, where he visited with former colleagues.

Milton Glick, 73, university president

Milton Glick, the president of the University of Nevada, Reno, who was credited with improving university academics and expanding the campus, among other achievements, died April 16 at 73.

In the five years that Glick headed the university it opened a new student center, a technologically advanced library, and a math and science center. He recruited a record number of National Merit Scholars to the university.

Glick’s death brought an outpouring of praise from political and university leaders in Nevada. Gov. Brian Sandoval said Glick “was passionate about education and brought a steady, experienced hand to the leadership of Nevada’s oldest institution of higher learning." U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that Glick fostered a "culture of excellence" at the university.

"He was one of the most dynamic presidents the University of Nevada, Reno, has had," Reid said, adding that Glick "was a breath of fresh air on campus with his trademark hat and great sense of humor, and loved by faculty and students alike."

Glick’s relationship with politicians in Nevada, however, had been strained recently because of budget cuts that reached $44 million and 400 job cuts in the past two years — 29 university departments or divisions were closed, and 22 degree programs were eliminated. In February, Glick said that $59 million in additional cuts proposed under Sandoval’s 2011 budget would diminish the university’s role as a driver of economic development.

Glick earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Augustana College in his native Rock Island, Ill., in 1959, and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin. He taught at Wayne State University in Detroit for 17 years and became a noted researcher in X-ray crystallography

Once he entered academic administration, Glick was provost and interim president at Iowa State University, dean of the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri, and provost at Arizona State University before taking his post  at Nevada, Reno.

In 2009, Glick supported a new effort by Jewish students at the university to conduct High Holidays services on campus for those who could not go home.

“I am Jewish and holy days are important to us,” he said. “It is a wonderful thing for various organizations to hold services on campus. We strongly support student campus unity (and) student organizations, but the university is not advocating a religious-based organization.”
 

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