Choue Young-seek ― promoter of peace
Founder of Kyung Hee University remembered for his devotion to education
By Cho Jae-hyon
Dr. Choue Young-seek, the late founder of Kyung Hee University, dedicated his life to educating the youth and promoting peace in the world.
While the nation was devastated by the Korean War in the early 1950s, Choue established a school with the belief that education would be the locomotive to pull the nation out of war-stricken poverty.
At the age of 30, he took the first step to become an educator by taking control of Shinheung Junior College in 1951. Based in Busan, the two-year college was the preceding entity of Kyung Hee University.
During this time, the school was sitting on a huge amount of debt. Though it was a highly risky venture, Choue expanded the school’s facilities, buying land and constructing buildings.
His aggressive management worked and the number of students steadily increased. The school came to earn a license to become a four-year university in December 1952, less than two years after Choue took the helm.
However, a fire gutted the main building of the school just 40 days after it was upgraded to a four-year college. Worse, the school board chairman and dean quit following the fire.
But Choue refused to give up. He put all of his energy and resources into rebuilding the school and succeeded in reconstructing its headquarters in Dongdaeshin-dong in the southern port city. The first 45 students graduated in March, 1953, just four months before the end of the war.
A ceasefire brought an end to the war on July 27, 1953. Many schools scrambled to return to their original campuses in Seoul. There was no campus in Seoul for Choue to move his school to.
After months of research and on-site visits, Choue bought a lot on the foot of Mt. Gohwang in Hoegidong-dong, Dongdaemun, Seoul on Oct. 12, 1953. He hiked up the small mountain every day to picture in his mind which buildings should be built and how they should be arranged on the sprawling site.
To transform the vision in his mind into reality, Choue studied architecture and drew up a blueprint for the construction of the stone building by himself.
The gem of the campus was the main building built with granite. In November, 1953, when he announced the master plan for its construction, few believed he would deliver his promise due to the huge costs.
To raise funds, Choue sold his house and secured loans from financial firms. He orchestrated the construction from scratch. The main building was completed on July 30, 1956. It became the symbol of the school.
He built the school campus out of nothing in the 1950s when the whole nation was struggling to overcome the aftermath of the war. Choue built the campus with a long-term vision that he would groom the university to become one of the top international schools. It has one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation.
Choue took a leading role in establishing the association of university presidents around the world. In 1968, the school made a leap forward in boosting its international status by hosting the second International Association of University Presidents (IAUP) conference.
The event, partially financed by the government, was one of the biggest international conferences to be held in the country at that time.
In 1971, Choue opened a new chapter in the school’s history with the construction of a general hospital. His passion for the construction of a top-notched hospital was exceptional. To acquire top medical equipment, he studied medical books and visited globally-famous hospitals in the United States, Japan and Europe.
In a speech during the ceremony to celebrate the completion of the hospital’s construction, Choue said: “The Kyung Hee Medical Center is not in the possession of an individual. It belongs to the people and the nation.”
He also showed a strong interest in blending traditional Oriental and Western medicine to develop alternative treatments. His commitment to developing Oriental medicine was the driving force behind the competitiveness of the Oriental medicine unit at the hospital.
Peace through education
After successfully holding the IAUP conference, Kyung Hee kept hosting international conferences, gaining valuable experience and knowhow on running global forums.
Through this, Choue sought to diagnose the problems plaguing the world and explore ways to build peace through education. These conferences and expanded alliances with other universities around the world strengthened Kyung Hee’s global network.
In 1971, in his keynote speech at a joint conference between the IAUP and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in Boston, he appealed for joint efforts for educational reform for the promotion of world peace.
His speech became the base for the “Boston Declaration,” which later became the framework for International Peace Day designated by the United Nations.
Choue decided to construct a second campus outside Seoul in the late 1970s. After months of research, he came across an ideal lot in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province and broke ground in May 1979. Its Global Campus opened with 450 students the next year. It has now grown into a truly international campus that boasts more than 13,000 students.
Choue stepped down from the presidential post of the school in 1993, taking responsibility for the conflict between the Oriental medicine department and Western pharmacists over the sale of Oriental medicine at pharmacies.
This did not stop him from continuing his activities to promote world peace, hosting a series of international conferences such as a global NGO conference in Seoul in 1999. He also launched a “Neo Renaissance” campaign that year as part of his efforts to promote reconciliation and peace in the 21st century.
Choue passed away at the age of 91 on Saturday. But the legacy of his passion for education and peace will live on. The lifelong peace promoter’s remark that “Losing peace means losing everything” still resonates.