One time, it began with a 14-foot totem pole.
Movie mogul Steven Spielberg and his wife, actress Kate Capshaw, received the icon as a gift but didn't know where to put it. So three years ago, they offered it to UCLA's University Elementary School, where it now stands on the playground.
That gesture caught the eye of university fund-raisers, who had been interested in the couple even before one of their children enrolled in the campus grammar school in 1992. "This gift would make the Spielbergs very happy and would be an ideal entree to them for major gift cultivation," said a fund-raiser's note to a confidential file.
Eventually, UCLA officials began brainstorming over how to woo the Spielbergs for multimillion-dollar gifts for the elementary school, the UCLA Medical Center--even underwater exploration. But they would have to be courted carefully, one school official cautioned, because the Spielbergs are "very skittish about being approached only because of their money and the use of their name."
Such quests for private donations touch virtually every corner of the Westwood campus. A Times review of hundreds of confidential documents, including donor and alumni files, and interviews with fund-raisers offer a rare look at how one of the country's most prestigious public universities pursues private money.
Invitation lists for public lectures double as donor tip sheets. The English Department moderates a book club targeted at the wives of entertainment and arts figures. Doctors at the world-renowned medical center help scout wealthy--and sometimes grateful--patients. Deans offer prospects seats on academic advisory boards.
Driving it all is a little-known network of 74 full-time development officers, university employees who helped bring in nearly $100 million last year. Although only a fraction of the $1.7-billion annual operating budget, UCLA officials say the money is needed to provide what they call their "margin of excellence."
The school's fund-raising activities, however, have come under scrutiny recently after reports that development officers sometimes served as a back channel for VIP admission requests from major donors and other influential people. UCLA officials have acknowledged that a "handful" of students were admitted each year based on such requests but said there was no direct exchange of favors for admissions.
UCLA officials say private money is necessary to augment state support, which since 1960 has shrunk from 61% to 23% of their budget. The remainder of the operating funds come mainly from student fees, federal research grants and revenues from dorms, parking, athletic ticket sales and hospital care.
Like it or not, UCLA officials say, the Westwood campus must look elsewhere for money for new buildings, research labs and professorial chairs. UCLA, in fact, is launching a record $1-billion fund-raising drive and last week announced the largest gift in UC history--$45 million for a new neuroscience research center. Officials said it took them more than 10 years to cultivate the donation.
"Private support has been a critical element in UCLA's rise to excellence," Chancellor Charles E. Young wrote in a letter to 3,400 donors last week in anticipation of this article.
"Indeed . . . private philanthropy has helped us supplement state resources, widening access and increasing quality," he wrote. "Thus, private philanthropy is not inimical to our status as a public university; rather, it has been integral to our mission."
Concern about raising private money played a role last week in a UC Board of Regents discussion about VIP admissions. Donors were exempted from a resolution the regents passed restricting themselves from "inappropriate" influence on admissions. In addition, UC President Richard C. Atkinson and others suggested considering giving each campus chancellor a small number of undergraduate slots for development.
Emulating Private Schools' Tactics
In donations, UCLA lags behind UC Berkeley and cross-town rival USC--a private school that receives no state appropriations. Nonetheless, it is in the top tier of major universities, according to the New York-based Council for Aid to Education.
The future should bring in even more dollars, say UCLA officials. They expect significant gifts to flow from the wills of the school's first bumper crop of alumni, who graduated from the 1940s to the 1960s. They also are trying to teach recent graduates and current students that they have a responsibility to give back to the university once they achieve success.
"We would hope that our alumni would see giving to this institution not simply as a way of giving back to UCLA, but a way of giving back to a state that has supported their education through subsidy to the university," said Ted Mitchell, vice chancellor for academic planning and budget.