Remembering Attila Klein

October 26, 2014

Attila Klein, who was a member of the Brandeis faculty for over 40 years and helped found the Sustainable International Development (SID) program, has died at the age of 84, following a long illness.

Klein first joined the Brandeis faculty in 1962. His research originally focused on the biochemistry of how light influences the development of higher plants, but over the course of his career, Klein's academic interests grew. He was engaged with environmental science, teaching biology courses such as "Life in Extreme Environments," and he became a founding member of the Environmental Studies Program.

In 1994 he was part of the faculty committee that established the SID program, for which he later taught such courses as "Applied Ecology," "Coexistence and Natural Resource Management," and "Ecology and Development: Science and Policy."

“Attila was the ideal partner for me in shaping the SID program, for one of its core disciplines had to be environmental science,” said Laurence R. Simon, professor of international development and the SID program’s founding director. “While he had no direct experience in development, he brought not only rigor to teaching science to non-scientists, but also a deep empathy for the life experiences of many of our students.

“As a youth, Attila had fled the Nazi terror engulfing Europe,” Simon continued. “I will always recall with boundless admiration and fondness Attila’s gentle affirmation of life and his quiet dignity.”

Heller students remember Klein as a passionate scholar and devoted mentor.

“He opened my mind to always consider the ‘other’s’ perspective in my quest to save the world,” said Ato J. Lewis MA/SID’05. “Sessions with Attila were not discussions of the pressing environmental issues of the day; they were explorations into the realities of how various communities around the world live and interface with their environment.”

“He was a kind, generous professor and advisor,” added Rhonda Neuhaus MA/SID’99. “We often talked about global environmental issues and had a shared passion and interest in our work in Costa Rica. Despite losing touch over the years, I always thought of him with sweetness, heart and gratitude.”

Klein was just as generous with his time outside the University as he was with his students. Among his many commitments, he served on the Board of Directors of the International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries, the Scientific Advisory Committee of EARTHWATCH and the Committee for Human Rights of the American Anthropological Association.