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October 18, 1999
Studying Gandhism (With Some Help From McDonalds)
R S Shankar in San Diego
Hardcore Gandhians may frown, but the $ 25 million gift from the widow of the man who established McDonalds will be used to establish a Mahatma Gandhi Center at the University of San Diego, a major university on the west coast.
The Gandhi Center is part of the Joan B Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, which is scheduled to open in 2001. The groundbreaking ceremony for the institute was held here last week.
The Center will offer graduate studies in conflict resolution, social justice and study the use of nonviolence to bring about social justice. Currently, Gandhi's work and philosophy is being taught at more than 50 American universities through religion, politics, and history departments.
"Mahatma Gandhi is, in many ways better appreciated in America than in India," says his grandson Arun Gandhi, who runs a Gandhi Institute at the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee.
Kroc, 71, is the widow of Ray Kroc, the founder of the most successful fast-food business in the world. Forbes and other publications estimate her worth to be over $ 1.7 billion. She has given out more than $ :150 million for charities and education in the past decade.
Kroc's philanthropy includes $ :six million to the University of Notre Dame for a center on international peace studies. More recent donations include $ :80 million to the Salvation Army for construction and operation of a community center in San Diego's impoverished east side and $ :15 million to flood victims in Grand Forks, ND.
The largest single educational gift in San Diego, it was announced last year, the 90,000-square-foot peace institute is being planned as a think-tank for research and teaching. Much of its focus will be on social issues in California and Mexico, which is a few hours drive from its campus. The university has students from over 60 countries.
"I think this is probably the most important thing that we could possibly address," Kroc said after the ceremony.
The school held a four-day 'Building a Culture of Peace' conference to mark the groundbreaking ceremony, attended by US Secretary of Education Richard Riley.
"Joan Kroc's gift to the university is a lot more than just dollars. This institute will help students and faculty focus on the big picture -- promoting peace and justice in the world and in this community and in the hearts and minds of men and women everywhere," Riley said. "A college education, is great, but there is nothing greater than using your education to make the world better."
"The American people say the hope for peace is their main hope for the new millennium, and their main concern in terms of problems is this business of racism and hate crimes," Riley said. "That to me says how appropriate this kind of an institute is at this time."
University of San Diego Provost Frank Lacers thanked Kroc by saying her gift to the university will build a center that "gives form to the voice of the human heart."
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