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The Challenge
Going After the Best
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Spring 2003
Going After the Best
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The problem for UCLA, however, is that while its endowment is generous compared with other public universities, it is small compared to those of elite privates like Harvard and Princeton against which it competes. (UCLA’s endowment at the end of Fiscal Year 2002, for example, had a market value of $1.2 billion; that was dwarfed by Harvard’s endowment, valued at $17.5 billion.) This disparity of funds has a direct effect on UCLA’s ability to recruit and retain leading talent. Resources and competitiveness, therefore, go hand in hand. As Executive Vice Chancellor Neuman puts it: Competitiveness is simply “the ability of an institution to have the resources to attract the very best individuals — be they faculty, students or staff — when other universities are doing the same thing.” Thus, a critical goal of the task force is “to see what can be done to enhance UCLA’s competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining the best faculty and students.”

Which raises a fundamental question: What attracts distinguished faculty and students to UCLA in the first place? Probably the most compelling attraction is UCLA’s solid reputation for cutting-edge research, the kind that “arches and bends with society’s goals,” in the words of the late Rep. George E. Brown Jr. ’46, one of California’s most respected politicians and an ardent supporter of university-based scientific research. Indeed, only a handful of campuses in the country can match UCLA’s track record in research. “We offer a very special research education, which requires a very special kind of professoriate,” says Barbara Nelson, dean of the School of Public Policy and Social Research, who is heading a task-force action group on ways to improve faculty housing, child care, schooling and spousal employment — all important factors when it comes time to recruit and retain top faculty. Only about one out of 10 American universities is dedicated to research, says Nelson. “It’s what we do best. It’s our special advantage.”

Research that pushes the frontiers of knowledge cannot be sustained without high-caliber faculty, which is why the teaching staff is one of the key measures of a campus’ value. “It is by no means an original idea that an outstanding faculty will attract outstanding students, some of whom will go on to become outstanding teachers,” says Neuman. Nor is it novel for an exceptional faculty to serve as a magnet for their peers at competing universities, while at the same time — and this is key — “attracting resources in order to enhance research capability.”

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