AddThis ShareCONTACT: Mike WilliamsPHONE: 713-348-6728 E-MAIL: [email protected] Rice professor co-founds North Korean universityUS, North and South Korean leaders come together to make school possibleThe door to peace between North Korea, its neighbors and the West is far from open, but there’s light coming through a crack as a private university has been established for science and technology that relies greatly on equal parts South Korean energies, Korean-American ingenuity and Western expertise. You might think such a thing impossible from news reports over the past few years: nuclear tests, missile launches, arrests of foreign journalists and so on. But Rice University’s Malcolm Gillis knows better. Gillis, the former president of Rice, has played a large role in the formation of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), which was dedicated last month and will open the doors of its new campus to graduate students next spring, with the first undergraduates to follow. Gillis is one of four founding committee co-chairmen, along with founding President James Chin-Kyung Kim; Chan-Mo Park, former president of Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea; and Jung Bae Kim, former president of Korea University. Gillis’ role is not dissimilar to that he has played at other institutions in recent years, most notably Jacobs University Bremen in Germany and a new institution in Vietnam, Tan Tao University, outside of Ho Chi Minh City.Gillis said his link to the project goes back to 1997 when, while still president of Rice, he responded to requests for help from the late Kim Dae Jung, then president-elect of South Korea. “I became involved in helping him cope with the Asian financial meltdown in 1997-98, before he came into office,” recalled Gillis. “The crisis landed in his lap. I was asked to help convince the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the New York banks that South Korea had a liquidity problem, not a solvency problem. I spent the entire Christmas holidays of 1997 on the phone working to get the message across.”Having earned President Kim’s trust, Gillis became involved in his attempts at peaceful engagement with North Korea, for which the man who became South Korea’s president won the Nobel Peace Prize. Gillis organized a conference at Rice on Korean reunification in 2005, and in 2006 presented a paper on lessons for North Korea at a conference of Nobel Peace Prize laureates in Gwangju, South Korea.All of that, he said, led James Kim to his door at Rice: “He and his group walked into my office one day and asked me to help with this university. I said I’d be happy to, but we had to be sure the State Department was going to let an American citizen do this. State said, ‘This is humanitarian. Go ahead.’”That was in 2005, and PUST’s progress since is primarily a testament to James Kim’s determination. The native South Korean, now 74, was a teen in 1950 when he was nearly killed on the battlefield fighting the North. Kim swore as he lay injured that if he survived, he would dedicate his life to helping bring about peace with his enemy.Kim’s journey led him to Florida, where he earned U.S. citizenship and became a successful businessman; to China, where he established a college in Yanji, just across the border from North Korea; and finally into North Korea itself. While visiting to bring food and clothing to orphanages, he was accused of being an American spy, imprisoned and sentenced to die. Kim wrote a will pledging his organs for research in Pyongyang, and the sympathy his generosity created – particularly with North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il – led to his release. To his surprise, James Kim was invited to North Korea in 2001 to help create an institution similar to the one in Yanji. PUST was born, and Kim has raised more than $35 million to build and fund the new university.Gillis speaks in measured tones when he discusses the hard work and long negotiations that led to the creation of PUST. He said that despite outward appearances, many in North Korea want the United States involved in helping achieve a rapprochement with the world community.“We have to work with the situation, but in the meantime, people in the West need to be concerned about a generation of young Koreans who, when they open to the world economy, will have to have something to sell,” he said. “Without technology and higher education, they will have very little to offer.”He expects the faculty will include a number of Korean-Americans. “We’ve had people step down from their positions as, say, heads of IT for large corporations to go there,” Gillis said. “It’s going to take time to get everyone in place, and it’s going to be painstaking. But the facility is complete. It is paid for, and everything is ready.”PUST will start with programs for information technology, industry and management, and agriculture, with plans to open new schools for architecture and engineering and for public health in the near future. Like Jacobs University, PUST will strongly resemble Rice in its academic and administrative structure, as will Tan Tao University in Vietnam.That pleases Gillis, who said there are indications Syria is also ready to consider establishing a private university in Damascus. “Rice is now becoming known as the ‘Johnny Appleseed of private education,’” he said.Gillis served as president of Rice University from 1993 until 2004. He is currently University Professor and the Ervin Kenneth Zingler Professor of Economics and professor of management at Rice University.