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NRI, Dr. Kiran Patel, with his wife, Pallavi, says that as the world shrinks we need solutions across national boundaries.

Ecstatic USF gets biggest bounty


An $18.5-million donation and a state match, totaling $34.5-million, will allow USF to build the Patel Center.
By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer
Published May 20, 2005

TAMPA - The University of South Florida got the biggest donation in its history Thursday, a gift worth $34.5-million that USF hopes will place it on the world map.

The university will use the money from Dr. Kiran Patel and his wife, Dr. Pallavi Patel, to build the Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions on USF's Tampa campus.

"The world is shrinking and becoming global," Patel, 57, said during an interview Thursday. "So it's time to think global."

The $62.5-million center will become a place where foreign leaders gather and researchers study issues such as global hunger and international trade, university leaders said.

"This really sets the university apart from other universities in the world," said USF president Judy Genshaft. "I really see this as a very unique opportunity for the university. And in some ways, it is a challenge to make this the best in the world."

The university planned a day's worth of events today to celebrate the gift from Patel, a Tampa cardiologist who was born in Africa, educated in India and made millions as a health care executive in Florida.

The events begin with a briefing for 65 professors and end with a 7 p.m. dinner at the Marshall Center, which 1,000 people were invited to attend. "This is incredible," an ebullient Genshaft said.

When built, the Patel Center could include four pavilions to house scholars, a world-class conference center, classrooms, a 500-seat auditorium, and facilities to house foreign dignitaries.

It will be on Fowler Avenue just west of the Dr. Kiran C. Patel Charter School and the Dr. Pallavi Patel Pediatric Clinic, two other USF projects funded by the couple.

The center will give USF faculty the backing to apply for grants from foundations that have been out of reach, said provost Renu Khator, one of the architects of the idea.

"This will give us the launching pad to be competitive," Khator said. "The groundwork is there to take this university to that next level of excellence."

Patel's $18.5-million donation include $10-million to build the center, $2.5-million to operate it and $6-million for an endowment. The donation will allow USF to receive $16-million from a state program that matches private donations to universities.

That brings the total value of Patel's gift to $34.5-million.

About $7-million of Patel's gift will be given only after USF raises $14-million from other donors. Those donations also can be matched by the state.

In total, the $62.5-million center will include $14-million in private donations, $18.5-million from the Patels, and $30-million in state matching funds over many years.

The gift makes the Patels the largest single donor in USF history, said Michael Rierson, USF's vice president for advancement. "It's a Rockefeller-style gesture," he said. "It's bigger than big."

Patel said Thursday he first began talking to university officials about the idea three years ago.

By then, he had already established a reputation for philanthropy. He and his wife have given $5-million to build a school at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, $3-million for a heart-research institute near University Community Hospital and $450,000 for a charter school at USF, among other gifts.

Rierson, the USF fundraiser, recalls Patel asking him: When are you going to ask me for money?

Before USF could solicit him, Patel pledged funds for medical school scholarships. "I don't have time for you guys to ask me for money," Rierson recalled Patel saying.

Around campus, Rierson has turned Patel's name into a verb - "We need to Patel that," meaning USF should kick it in high gear.

Other universities had approached Patel, a USF trustee, about donating to causes related to India, he said. But Patel said he wanted to think bigger.

Having lived on three continents, Patel calls himself a global citizen. Born in Zambia under apartheid, Patel studied medicine in India under a British system, and later built a small HMO in Tampa into a $1-billion business.

He met his wife, Pallavi, while both were studying medicine in India in the 1960s.

He said he sees the world growing smaller and thinks that to thrive, people must find solutions across national boundaries. "The world is shrinking very fast," Patel said. "And we want to be on the edge and ahead."

Patel had been impressed by the work of USF's existing Globalization Center. When it paid for New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman to speak on campus, he told Rierson: "This is what we need. This level of debate about international issues."

As the idea grew, Patel flew with Rierson, Genshaft and Khator on a USF donor's private plane to Houston to visit the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. The trip was a turning point for Patel.

"Many world leaders always show up in New York or Washington," Patel said. "But we always get passed by. The primary reason is because we don't have a reason for anyone to visit us."

Patel saw what an institute could create - only he wants USF's center to go beyond just studying global issues and find solutions. The Globalization Center will eventually become part of the Patel Center.

"They wanted to make sure these academic ideas do not sit on a shelf," Khator said of the Patels.

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Dr. Kiran Patel, with his wife, Pallavi, says that as the world shrinks we need solutions across national boundaries. At the $62.5-million Patel Center, foreign leaders will gather and researchers will study global hunger and international trade.