Shaun M. and Jill F. Byrnes have made a generous bequest that will ensure the future of REEI and honor its founder (and Shaun’s father), Professor Robert F. Byrnes. The gift provides a source of funding for REEI in perpetuity and will support a distinguished scholar position at the Institute. It builds on the Byrnes Fellowship, which was established in 1997 through the generosity the late Eleanor Byrnes, beloved wife of Professor Byrnes, and has covered living expenses and full tuition for more than twenty REEI MA students who have moved on to successful careers in government, business, academia, and the non-profit sector.
With this bequest REEI is renamed as the Robert F. Byrnes Russian and East European Institute. A professor of history at IU, Byrnes founded REEI as one of the university’s first area studies programs in 1958-59 and served as its director in 1959-1962 and 1971-1975. He played an instrumental role in recruiting and hiring IU faculty with specializations in Russian and East European studies. A key figure in IU President Herman B. Wells’ quest to internationalize the university, Byrnes helped launch the International Affairs Center, the predecessor to the IU Office of International Affairs, as well as IU’s Institute for Advanced Study. Byrnes also founded and led the Inter-University Committee on Travel Grants (subsequently the International Research and Exchanges Board), a nationwide organization that initiated the exchange of students and scholars between the United States and the Soviet Union, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria.
"Bob Byrnes' vision and determination established the Russian and East European Institute among the nation's leading area studies institutions at a time of critical national need,” reflected James F. Collins, former U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation, who studied at IU under Bob Byrnes en route to an MA in history and certificate from REEI. ”By bringing exceptional, young scholarly talent, a team of known leaders in the field, and a commitment to teaching and research, REEI has established a living legacy of graduates that has enriched the academy, the ranks of our nation's government, and a wide range of institutions in the private sector.”
"Robert Byrnes was one of our country's most accomplished and influential scholars of Russia, Eastern Europe and Russian-American relations," declared IU President Michael A. McRobbie. "At the height of the Cold War, he played a central role in the opening of academic exchanges with the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. He also worked with leaders at Indiana University to develop one of the world's most renowned centers on Russian and East European area studies. Professor Byrnes always closed his letters and phone calls with the motto 'onward and upward.' This generous gift will ensure the institute that now bears his name will continue onward and upward, preparing future leaders in business, education and public service to carry on his legacy and confront the critical issues facing this dynamic and strategically important region of the world."
Echoing President McRobbie, former Ambassador Lee Feinstein, founding dean of the IU’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, extolled Byrnes as “a champion for scholarship and exchange between intellectuals from the United States and their counterparts in the Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe” and expressed his confidence that REEI’s “tradition of excellence will continue and grow stronger" with the support of the sizable bequest.
A formal naming celebration will take place when restrictions on public gatherings are lifted.