Gunter Bischof: Warm Friendship and Major Gifts from Austria for the University of New Orleans and CenterAustria





The reopening ceremony of CenterAustria at the University of New Orleans on February 17 in the presence of the Austrian ambassador to the United States, Eva Nowotny, was a showpiece of transatlantic higher education cooperation and the profound ties of friendship between the partner universities of New Orleans and Innsbruck. It ended with a bombshell when a major gift by the Austrian government was announced for rebuilding UNO after Hurricane Katrina. Chancellor Timothy Ryan warmly welcomed the Austrian guests to campus and talked about the importance of the international response to the “Katrina” disaster and how fortunate UNO felt with the solidarity shown in Innsbruck and Austria for the New Orleans area and UNO.

The warm glow of friendship and generosity permeated the room when a check for 20,000 dollars was handed over to Chancellor Ryan. 40 UNO faculty and staff members each received 500 dollar checks from the donations collected by the University of Innsbruck for “Katrina” victims at UNO. “What a nice surprise -- this is the most heartening encouragement of my tattered life since the storm ruined my home,” said one recipient who hugged Ellen Palli, the driving power behind the Innsbruck fund raising efforts. Dean Anton Pelinka brought the greetings from the Chancellor of the University of Innsbruck and the Mayor of Innsbruck.

The big surprise of the afternoon came when Eugen Stark and Wolfgang Stoiber, the executive secretaries of the “Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation” of Vienna, announced the donation of 1 million dollars to UNO for improving international studies programs, helping children in charter schools such as Ben Franklin and Capdeau Middle affiliated with the UNO College of Education, and helping the population of New Orleans mentally recover through the “Mozart effect” by aiding the public radio station WWNO at UNO to schedule more Mozart programming in Mozart’s 250th anniversary year of his birthday.

The Viennese visitors also handed over a highly symbolic empty flour sack to Günter Bischof, the director of CenterAustria, who is also a scholar of the postwar Marshall Plan. This sack contained 100 pounds of flour, milled in New Orleans in 1948, financed through the Marshall Plan, and shipped to Austria to feed a still desperately hungry population. “There could not be a finer symbol of renourishing the hopes of those dejected in this city than this gesture from our friends in the Marshall Plan Foundation to initiate a quasi-‘Marshall Plan in reverse’ for New Orleans with such a generous gift,” said a visibly touched Bischof.

Ambassador Nowotny concluded this memorable afternoon with a lecture on the state of the European Union during the current Austrian EU-Presidency. She analyzed the status of the dormant constitutional treaty, and talked about efforts both to stop terrorism and the future EU expansion into the Balkans region. She also passionately called for more trans-Atlantic research cooperation in common environmental challenges such as global warming and sustainable energy.


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