Local business leader donates $100 million to transform UCLA's role in civic participation, education of future public leaders
A Southern California business leader and alumnus, passionate about UCLA's role as a public resource and agent for social mobility, has donated $100 million to the campus, the second largest gift ever received.
The gift from Meyer Luskin and his wife, Renee, will go toward academic programs and capital improvements that bolster UCLA's efforts to harness intellectual capital, engage the public and serve as a resource in addressing leading civic and societal challenges, particularly in the Los Angeles region. It will be equally divided between the UCLA School of Public Affairs — the campus home for scholarship and teaching in public policy, urban planning and social welfare — and a planned residential conference center that promises to expand dialogue between scholars, government and business leaders, and the public at large.
Chancellor Gene Block, who has made civic engagement and community service top campus priorities, said the gift "reflects both our strength as a public asset and our optimism for the future."
"I am humbled and inspired by the extraordinary generosity of Meyer and Renee Luskin," Block said. "The Luskins are helping to ensure UCLA's continued leadership as a public university dedicated to developing new knowledge and helping to address both today's and tomorrow's most pressing policy and scientific challenges."
Meyer Luskin commuted to UCLA from Boyle Heights, earning a bachelor's degree in economics in 1949, and went on to run a diversified company that is now exclusively an animal-feed product manufacturer.
"I live and work in the region and wanted to give back in a creative and unique way that helps UCLA to continue its important work with the broader community," Luskin said. "In addition to educating students, providing them a way to improve their lives, and conducting research, UCLA should apply faculty expertise to help address our society's biggest issues, and I am appreciative of being able to contribute to those ends."
In recognition of the gift, both the school and the residential conference center, which share interconnected goals, will be named after the Luskins. A naming ceremony for the School of Public Affairs is scheduled for March 18.
"The Luskins' gift allows us to develop a truly contemporary learning environment for the next generation of public leaders and decision-makers, many of whom choose to devote their professional lives to improving Southern California," said Franklin D. Gilliam Jr., dean of the School of Public Affairs. "The Luskins' generosity will enable us to expand a regional and national debate on some of the most challenging questions of our time: How do we design modern cities that are livable and sustainable? How do we assimilate immigrants while securing our borders? How do we move toward a more just and equitable society?"
Gilliam said the vast majority of the $50 million flowing to the school will be used to establish endowments to strengthen its academic base, support emerging research areas and attract the best talent to both the faculty and student body. He said priority areas include graduate student fellowships, faculty professorships and new programs in urban studies and social justice — all critical to ensuring continued competitiveness with other leading government and public affairs schools.
Gilliam noted that the school houses the Luskin Center for Innovation, established with support from the Luskins in 2008. The center works closely with elected officials and nonprofit, business and community leaders to develop solutions to important policy challenges.
"The Luskins' philanthropic priorities are a natural fit with what we do," Gilliam said.
The other half of the Luskins' $100 million gift will support a new residential conference facility that will include 33,000 square feet of meeting and conference space, at least 282 guest rooms and a new faculty club. It will be built on the site of the existing faculty center, a 50-year-old structure in need of costly repairs.
The existing faculty center has served the campus well but no longer meets contemporary requirements for conferences and symposia, said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh.
"Our students and faculty and the community at large deserve a first-class conference facility befitting UCLA's stature as a top public research university," Waugh said. "Hosting scholars from around the world and engaging with the community to address leading problems require modern facilities and overnight accommodations for participants."
Waugh said the conference facility and new faculty club are important tools in attracting and retaining top researchers. No state funding will be involved in construction, tentatively scheduled to begin in the spring of 2012, pending approval by the University of California Board of Regents.
Waugh said a portion of the conference center gift — $10 million — will be set aside in an endowment to fund conferences that otherwise may have difficulty securing funding. For example, academic departments in the humanities frequently have fewer resources at their disposal than those in the sciences or medicine.
Meyer Luskin, 85, is president, CEO and chairman of Scope Industries, which recycles bakery waste to make an animal-feed ingredient. He said a $30 scholarship allowed him to continue his UCLA studies, which were interrupted by his military service in World War II, when he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps (later known as the Air Force).
"The multidisciplinary education I received at UCLA has helped me immeasurably in business, whether it's organizational, management or philosophical issues, and I am eternally grateful," said Luskin, a history enthusiast.
Luskin met his wife, Renee, while she was a UCLA student. She earned a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1953. After completing his bachelor's degree at UCLA, Meyer Luskin earned an M.B.A. from Stanford University in 1951.
The Luskins are longtime supporters of UCLA, with their generosity extending to endowments for undergraduate student scholarships and graduate student fellowships, a children's clinic at Santa Monica–UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, the alumni association and numerous advisory boards. Meyer Luskin also has served as chairman of the advisory board for the Santa Monica–UCLA Medical Center.
"UCLA is among the greatest universities in the world, and it gave me my start," he said. "It's essential that I give back so that others can enjoy the same benefits."