In the beginning, Westwood was without form and void. Only ranch land was upon the face of the rolling hills.
Then Edwin and Harold Janss said, “Let there be UCLA.”
The Janss brothers’ land grant gift to mankind and the University of California came at $3.5 million less than the actual price – in effect, the first ever donation to UCLA.
The university was joined at birth with philanthropic giving, a concept that would define both the highs and lows of the institution’s next 100 years.
Such were the humble, benign beginnings of UCLA’s fundraising approach. Nearly a century later, the university’s donor pool isn’t just high-society elites, but a mass of more than 200,000 donors, 95% of whom have donated less than $10,000. Administrators and faculty in academic departments, athletics and UCLA External Affairs coordinate a massive fundraising network, one that has raised about $4.7 billion in just the last seven years.
But the decades-long fundraising operation that got us here has come with its fair share of controversies. The university has engaged in everything from embezzlement to the unethical gifting from athletics donors in order to preferentially admit donors’ children to the university.
The dependence on donors that begot these controversies is unsurprising, especially in the face of continuously decreasing state funding per student over the past decades. With every subsequent campaign, fundraising has become a more central part of the UCLA identity.
In fact, fundraising has become a little too central, so much that it is obvious UCLA is desperate for donor money. It’s made a point to roll over as much as needed to satisfy donors’ requests, with an almost reckless indifference to the effect on the institution's reputation.
And it’s shown at times a willingness to cross legal and moral lines in pursuit of every last bit of cash.
Temple of Doom
UCLA’s early donations involved donors reaching out to the university for its construction projects.
In post-World War II America, there was no longer time to wait for the donors.
In fact, the constant urgency for donations meant UCLA would stumble into major scandals along the way, sullying its reputation just to get every last bit of aid.
The trend began first when the UC Board of Regents announced a medical school at UCLA in 1945. The state government covered most of the funding, but UCLA had to cover auxiliary costs and eventually reached out to its second set of donors: Hollywood celebrities.
Things picked up from there. In the early 1960s, the university was met with even more of a pressing need: a lack of an adequate basketball arena for John Wooden’s championship-caliber team. Then-Chancellor Franklin Murphy, in response, started UCLA’s first-ever formal fundraising campaign.
The university couldn’t have put together a more wretched hive of villainy for that campaign. Murphy was able to raise $1 million from Edwin Pauley, an oil magnate who later secretly worked with the FBI to try to get then-UC President Clark Kerr fired. Another $2 million was raised by alumni in an effort led by H. R. Haldeman, future President Richard M. Nixon’s chief of staff who would later serve 18 months in federal prison for his role in Watergate.
The involvement of Pauley and Haldeman was an almost poetic foreboding of the unethical future of UCLA’s fundraising.
The first universitywide fundraising campaign came years later, spearheaded in 1982 by visionary then-Chancellor Charles E. Young. The campaign, set at a goal of $200 million, was called the most ambitious fundraising effort by a public university – a tagline UCLA would repeat for every future fundraising effort.
The university’s first experiences with large sums of money resulted in officials stumbling their way into corruption. In 1977, an assistant chancellor was accused of stealing about $100,000 in donations and later pleaded no contest to charges of grand theft. Funds from UCLA Foundation, the nonprofit organization that collects gifts to UCLA, were used to buy Young a vacation to Tahiti and rent him a summer home. The foundation paid back some of the fees and retroactively approved the expenses as a way to fix the mess following an investigation by the California attorney general.
But the little whoopsie was forgiven and forgotten. The success of the campaign, which raised nearly $375 million by 1988, was what mattered in the end.
UCLA’s disdain for ethics became obvious a decade later. The university sold 4,000 tickets to the 1994 Rose Bowl game against Wisconsin to Angelo M. Mazzone III following a $100,000 donation. Mazzone ended up marking up the tickets at such exorbitantly high prices that he made about $400,000 in profits while stranding hundreds of out-priced fans outside the stadium.
UCLA’s cozying up to Mazzone resulted in an investigation by the Wisconsin attorney general, a class-action lawsuit against the university, new state laws, a policy revision from the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and a harsh condemnation from a Wisconsin judge. The university’s fundraising had created a real national impact in all the wrong ways.
But two years later, the Los Angeles Times exposed that administrators had been doing worse: They had been giving preferential admission to hundreds of rich individuals’ children. The rich or those who had previously donated would make calls to high-ranking UCLA administrators. The UCLA Foundation or Young would then put in a good word for the donor’s or potential donor’s child and the university’s admissions office would favor such recommended applicants.
Acclimatized with the fundraising game, UCLA responded to this controversy in a much more blasé fashion. Young defended the university’s skewed admissions as a way to keep UCLA afloat.
“If you don’t do that, it is going to reduce dramatically what (money) we raise,” he told the LA Times.
The university wasn’t yet done propping open backdoors. In 2007, the Daily Bruin uncovered that dental school administrators were giving preferential admissions toward donors’ children. Even worse, these officials communicated about their misdeeds via emails that could be publicly accessed. The university, on brand, did not reprimand anyone involved.
Fast forward to 2018, and the same old controversy has played out. The LA Times revealed UCLA Athletics accepted a subpar athlete onto its track and field team once a donor assured a gift of $100,000. Senior members of the athletics administration lobbied for the student to be admitted, in the clearest case of quid pro quo among donor controversies. A university report found that UC policies had been violated. Surely, these people would get reprimanded – maybe a light slap on the wrist? Nope, instead the university’s solution was, in part, “training.”
The most recent controversies are particularly amazing since they showed officials – in completely different departments – are willing to similarly break the rules not for themselves, but to build up the prestige of the university.
Make no mistake, these aren’t isolated minor accidents made by misguided individuals. These are the systematic machinations of a system built to grasp for every last dollar. A temple where low-ranking officials blindly act for a cause that doesn’t affect them and the high officials sweep aside any proof of wrongdoing and wait for everything to blow over.
But as every consequent reputation-damaging expose has shown, this temple is sometimes a temple of doom.
You better not miss
Before 1982, UCLA raised about $50 million per year, at a time when fundraising at a public university was a novel concept. In 2019, that number is over $600 million per year – about a four-fold increase adjusted for inflation.
The buildings on campus bear the names of donors. The entrances to Pauley Pavilion bear their names. The esophageal diseases center bears their name.
We live in the gilded era of UCLA donors, and it has just begun. For the wealthy, that means the ability to shape the campus as they see fit to promote their self-interests.
Take for instance, Herbalife, a multilevel marketing company which established the Mark Hughes Cellular and Molecular Nutrition Laboratory through a mere $1.5 million gift to UCLA. Consequently, Herbalife’s CEO took to touting the UCLA relationship, which it had bought out, as a reason for why its products are great. All the while, UCLA’s reputation was dragged through the dirt as the university propped up a company that has built itself on predatory practices against consumers, targeted particularly at Hispanic communities.
Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of Pom Wonderful, have provided vast sums of money for research at the university, some of which has been used to bolster the case for Pom as the panacea for all health problems. The Federal Trade Commission came after the company for its allegedly false advertising claims and UCLA’s research was called into question.
Yet when a community member raises concerns about a potential gift or donor, UCLA punches back hard.
That was the case when the university received a $10 million gift from Lowell Milken, who had been alleged by the Department of Justice to be complicit in a junk bond scheme – though he was never convicted. Some legal scholars argued the charges against him were an unfair way to get to his brother, while others asserted Milken was deeply involved in wrongdoing. A UCLA School of Law professor raised one such objection to the donation.
The school of law fought back with an derisive statement attacking the professor.
“Only one member of the business law faculty has expressed anything less than gratitude – and that concern was surprising, given that this professor was involved early in the process, has been a beneficiary of the donor’s philanthropy, and did not raise objections until quite recently,” a spokesperson for the law school wrote.
Chancellor Gene Block similarly rushed to the defense of entertainment mogul David Geffen after a Daily Bruin editor wrote a column in 2016 criticizing the university for trying to rename a public square after Geffen. Block defended UCLA’s move, saying Geffen was a "true champion" of UCLA.
Donor criticism isn’t just a topic UCLA is sensitive and touchy about – it’s the only kind of criticism UCLA is touchy about. Block’s response in 2016 was the last time he wrote a letter to the editor to the Daily Bruin.
That’s surprising because this is a university at which laying low, ignoring controversies or playing them down are the norm. But when it comes to donors, UCLA has a completely different message: If you come after one of our bankrollers, you better not miss.
Wax on, wax off
UCLA’s Centennial commemorations will undoubtedly be a celebration of the campus’ heritage. The university, however, has shown that with the proper donation, it’s willing to wax on and wax off campus culture.
Take for instance the former Kinsey Hall. In 2004, UCLA decided to de-name it to the Humanities Building. Those in the know, like one physics professor, could see what was happening from 14 years away: A donor would gift a large sum of money and have their name plastered on one of UCLA’s first four structures.
That wasn’t too shabby a prediction, as Jordan Kaplan donated $25 million in 2018 to name the building after his UCLA-affiliated parents, christening it as Renée and David Kaplan Hall.
Ask California’s governor what he thinks of the practice, and he’ll say it’s legal bribery. That’s an inaccurate description, though, because the university is the one nudging donors.
“We actually do it in recognition of somebody who has chosen to be charitable to the institution,” said Rhea Turteltaub, UCLA vice chancellor for external affairs.
Turteltaub gave the example of the Gonda (Goldschmied) Neuroscience and Genetics Research Center. The Gonda family wasn’t initially interested in naming a building, only in helping efforts in neuroscience research. UCLA then spoke to the family about how it would be a powerful and demonstrative gesture for it to name the building. The family ultimately agreed on the condition of putting its original family name in parenthesis as “(Goldschmied)” in the title, to honor family members who died in the Holocaust.
UCLA typically seeks about 50% of the cost of construction when it solicits such donations. Per Turteltaub, the university is also looking at donors to sponsor the multiple additions to the Psychology Building and Psychology Tower, or what the university calls “naming opportunities.”
But the building and tower that are up for grabs haven't always borne generic names. Instead they were considered part of Franz Hall . Turteltaub said in an email statement the two structures “were never officially named anything by the University – neither UC (Office of the President) nor UCLA records show any formal namings.” However, the tower very clearly used to have the title “Franz Hall” plastered on its front.
The strategy seems to be bringing in millions to the university. But there are only so many nameless buildings and entrances to Pauley Pavilion at this crowded campus. The logical evolution of UCLA’s donation infatuation could see the campus adopting what other universities are doing: putting lecture halls and streets for grabs.
“Moore 100: not named. Could it be? Sure,” Turteltaub said.
All of this isn’t to say UCLA shouldn’t be raising funds for itself or that fundraising is inherently bad. After all, state funding has gone down for years and the state doesn’t really support capital projects like the construction of facilities. UCLA has tackled this deftly, going above and beyond what has been needed and turning the institution into one of the nation’s top universities in the process.
The $4.7 billion it has raised in the Centennial Campaign fundraising is impressive, especially when more than $650 million of that is going to help student scholarships. Hundreds of millions will help improve scientific research and the quality of education. The greater good most donors have done for this university, its students, its faculty and academia overall cannot be ignored.
And yet, UCLA could have achieved all of these goals without controversies. It could have survived without a paltry $100,000 from a parent to admit a subpar track and field athlete. It could have survived without a couple of million dollars from elites eager to admit subpar dental school applicants.
UCLA arrives at its 100th year with a lot to celebrate. After all, it has raised one of the largest fundraising pools a university has ever generated.
But we’re left asking: at what cost?
Maybe the next LA Times expose will help us find out.