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Measuring Up


By UCLA Chancellor Gene Block

Published Jan 1, 2010 9:00 AM

UCLA has always given its all to measure up to its mission. But now, the university's very future is at stake, as the financial crisis slowly starves its ability to deliver the extraordinary research, state-of-the-art education and tireless social initiatives that have made life better for every California citizen for almost 100 years. Can what Chancellor Gene Block calls our "magnificent institution" survive? Only with the active support of the university's friends and family — who are needed now more than at any time in UCLA's storied history.

Forty years ago, the world's first Internet message was sent from UCLA to Stanford University.

This rudimentary host-to-host transmission ushered in a technological revolution that has transformed communications, education, culture, business and entertainment around the globe. Like so many discoveries made at UCLA, it changed the world.


In 1975, UCLA developed the first durable artificial hip. Six years later, we reported the world's first cases of AIDS, and in 2005, our medical center became the world's first hospital to introduce remote presence robots in neurosurgery intensive care.

The chronicle of life-improving knowledge created on our campus goes on and on, and more is added every day. UCLA is a superpower among research universities. Last year, our faculty brought in almost $1 billion in research funding through contracts and grants, and we've already received more than $109 million in stimulus funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

But discovery is only one facet of what we contribute to the world and its betterment. Every year, we provide world-class education for 30,000 students, health care for 300,000 patients, and arts and cultural offerings for half a million patrons.

UCLA graduates become top-tier teachers, architects, lawyers, doctors, engineers, public-health professionals and much more. A few weeks ago, Elinor Ostrom, a three-time graduate of UCLA, became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in economics. She began her winning research here as a doctoral student.

As the Los Angeles region's seventh-largest employer, UCLA adds $9.3 billion a year to the region's economy. Our programs reach across the city and beyond.

But I fear for our future. As I look ahead, I see a magnificent institution that is slowly starving. Over the past 30 years, state support has fallen from 37 percent to 9 percent of the university's operating budget. UCLA, as it was envisioned and as it has always fulfilled that vision, is an endangered species. Right now, while California lawmakers try to repair the state's fiscal health, other elite universities are circling, ready to poach our talent. Over time, the consequences could be very serious.

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Yet our California community seems complacent toward this disturbing trend and especially toward this year's drastic cuts in state funding, which severely compromise UCLA's future. Has anyone stopped to think just what Los Angeles stands to lose if UCLA is allowed to slowly wither away? Where are the voices on its behalf? There is no one in the entire region whose life has not been improved by UCLA.

Our faculty and students are engaged in addressing every major issue confronting Los Angeles: poverty, congestion, crime, sustainability, air pollution, juvenile justice and homelessness, among others. We offer a wealth of expertise — including some of the world's leading scholars — to help find solutions. We partner with nearly 200 community organizations to improve quality of life in our community.

This fall, UCLA — in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District and community-based organizations — opened a pilot public school on the former site of the Ambassador Hotel in the Wilshire Center/Koreatown/Pico-Union area of central Los Angeles.

Located in the state's most densely populated neighborhood, the UCLA Community School is trilingual and multicultural. A UCLA team has participated in every aspect of its development, and our faculty, staff and students serve as mentors, instructors and tutors. We hope the school will become a model for others throughout the city and across the nation.

Meanwhile, our new, state-of-the-art Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is ranked third in the nation and best in the West by U.S. News & World Report. The rebuilding of the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital is nearing completion.

In September, our first UCLA Volunteer Day took 4,300 new students into the community to tackle restoration and beautification projects. They worked in Griffith Park and at Point Dume State Beach, the Veterans Administration Hospital and Cemetery and five schools around the city. Driving back to campus from Gompers Middle School in South Los Angeles that day, I was proud to spot a sea of UCLA blue T-shirts in the V.A. cemetery. Our new online Volunteer Center connects the campus with service opportunities citywide.

Last fall, our public performing arts program, UCLA Live, mounted a production of Euripides' Medea, starring Annette Bening, in our Freud Playhouse. Later this year, Randy Newman, Arlo Guthrie, Los Lobos and many more highly acclaimed artists will perform on campus. The UCLA Film and Television Archive's collection, which screens in our Billy Wilder Theater, is the nation's second-largest, behind only that of the Library of Congress.

But what does UCLA's future look like? The funding model on which we've always relied is broken. UCLA's greatness, its margin of excellence, is in grave danger.

Excellence is a shared asset, and the Los Angeles community, the region and the entire state have a stake in its support. We need our alumni, friends and supporters, as well as the citizens of California, to tell our lawmakers what a critical role UCLA plays. The future of the university is the future of the people of the state, affecting their business, cultural and educational lives and the quality of their medical care. Can we afford to let it starve?

Please step up as advocates and ambassadors for UCLA. Click through to see all the ways in which you can get involved on behalf of the university. Always, we appreciate your support; now, we need you more than ever.