Professor of Philosophy Robert Holmes has played an integral role in fostering UR’s nonviolence awareness and academic programs, but his decision to retire at the end of this academic year leaves the M.K. Gandhi Nonviolence Institute with new challenges to overcome. Holmes’s departure marks the University’s second loss of a prominent nonviolence advocate since the M.K. Gandhi Nonviolence Institute relocated here over a year ago.
Holmes teaches a variety of courses on the history and ethics of nonviolence, including one course entitled the ‘Philosophy, History and Practice of Nonviolence”. He teaches at least eight other related courses, as well. Students credit Holmes with inspiring them to push nonviolence beyond the limits of the classroom.
Co-founder of Nonviolent on Campus and senior Lindsey Lewis said that she joined other students to form the student group after taking one of Holmes’s classes.
‘Holmes has ignited something in the rest of us: conviction,” Lewis said. She added that she worries about the implications of the popular professor’s retirement.
‘I am concerned about the nonviolent subculture continuing on campus,” Lewis said.
Holmes’s retirement affects the nonviolence academics offered at UR, which has both direct and indirect implications for the M.K. Gandhi Nonviolence Institute. Though Holmes has not been involved with the Institute’s programming this year, he has assisted in the past as an adviser and coordinator of community workshops and a ‘Let There Be Peace!” concert.
The Institute’s leadership fluctuated during its first year at UR, most notably when co-founder and former President of the Board of Trustees Arun Gandhi resigned in light of a controversial blog post in January. Karen Trueheart was elected to succeed Gandhi as the president of the Board.
‘We continue to have an excellent relationship with Mr. Gandhi,” Trueheart said. ‘However, the consequence of his resignation is that we are having to develop programs and strategies which are independent from him. This is a challenge which we welcome.”
‘Mr. Gandhi was an ongoing presence, source of inspiration and embodiment of his grandfather’s legacy,” she added. ‘Also, through his speaking engagements and ability to attract donations, he was a significant source of income. For these reasons, his resignation was a profound loss to the Institute.”
Director of the Institute Allison Stokes affirmed that the board has rebuilt itself since it moved to Rochester from its original home in Memphis, Tenn.
The Institute has emphasized local outreach in its time at the University. According to Stokes, Institute staff are thinking about the global picture but acting on a local scale.
Stokes acknowledged the importance of moving forward with Gandhi’s original vision for the Institute, even though Gandhi himself is now unaffiliated.
‘We don’t want to lose ground,” she said. ‘The important thing is to keep this momentum going. I’m optimistic that we will.”
Most recently, Stokes visited Arezzo, Italy to meet with representatives of the Rondine Citadel of Peace.
At an address to Rondine affiliates, Stokes explained her hope to establish a Rondine/Gandhi exchange program for students as early as next fall.
Last year, UR hosted its first-annual nonviolence conference, ‘Toward a Nonviolent World,” which was well-attended by local community members, faculty and students. Years earlier, when the Institute was still based in Memphis, the conference attracted an audience from around the country, according to the Institute’s administrative assistant Trisha Goodman.
This year, a new staff member, Americorp volunteer Sarah Sirrani, is helping to organize the Institute’s Community Children and Youth Development program. Stokes described Sirrani as a welcome addition to Institute staff and UR nonviolence advocates.
‘She is a bridge between the nonviolence board and Nonviolent On Campus,” Stokes said.
In addition to Sirrani’s work, Lewis is coordinating a six-student advisory board that will enhance the student body’s relationship with the Institute. According to Lewis, one potential objective of this advisory group will be to help the Institute board design a procedure for students to create internships. In light of the recent news of Holmes’s retirement, Stokes explained that she plans to meet with faculty with an expressed interest in the Institute to discuss options that will strengthen UR’s nonviolence academics. Holmes discussed his vision of the future of nonviolence academics at the University.
‘It would be my hope that a nonviolence minor could be established and eventually [become] a major,” Holmes said. ‘Nonviolence is just beginning to be recognized as a major area of study, and the U of R could be in the forefront of that movement in higher education.”
Leber is a member of the class of 2011.