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Cal State Northridge to Get $38-Million Art Gift

September 23, 2003|Stuart Silverstein and Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writers

A businessman who attended Cal State Northridge only briefly has agreed to donate a collection of Chinese antiquities to the campus in a gift the school estimates to be worth $38 million.

It is the biggest donation ever to a school in the California State University system, school officials say.

The pledge came from Roland Tseng, 47, a technology entrepreneur in the San Francisco Bay Area who was born in China but spent most of his childhood in the San Fernando Valley.

He is the son of C.K. Tseng, a leader in Los Angeles' Asian American business community and the chairman of Northridge Travel Service near the university campus. In the 1980s, Roland Tseng was a vice president of the family business.

Many of the details of the pledge remain under negotiation, but the university said it already has received items from Tseng's collection with an appraised value of $9.5 million. As part of the donation, which will be spread over four years, Tseng is expected to fund an endowment that will pay for the maintenance of the collection.

Tseng said he decided to give the collection to Cal State Northridge because of his family's longtime ties to the campus. His father once headed a community-based fund-raising arm of the university. "I grew up here, and this seemed to be a really good match," he said.

Also, he said, he was appreciative of the school's more than 20 years of academic exchanges with China.

He said that donating the artifacts to the university would have a bigger effect, both on the institution and on the field of Chinese antiquities, than giving them to a museum with an existing collection. "A gift here will help to establish a collection that others can contribute to," Tseng said.

School President Jolene Koester said that the donated antiquities will be a focus of research by outside scholars as well as by CSUN faculty and students in archeology, art, Asian studies, geology, history and material sciences.

"What we have here are priceless treasures that will be studied by those who are passionate about the arts, by those who are passionate about China, by those who are passionate about understanding ancient civilizations. And it means Cal State Northridge will be in a pivotal role," Koester said.

The highlight of the antiquities collection is a gold and bronze vessel once used for ritual ceremonies, believed to date to between 1300 and 1100 BC. Tseng said the vessel, which has already been turned over to the university, was recovered in the mid-1980s in archeological digs in which he participated. University officials put its market value at $5.5 million.

Also included in the first-year donation were a bronze bull with inlaid gold and silver dating to between the 11th and 6th centuries BC, a glass water buffalo from between 400 and 221 BC and a Stone Age ax blade believed to be 1.5 million to 2 million years old.

Those items, along with other antiquities to be loaned by Tseng, are to go on display at the campus' Oviatt Library in a four-month exhibit beginning in April.

In connection with the donation, Cal State Northridge will seek approval from the Cal State Board of Trustees to rename the west wing of the Oviatt Library, where the donated collection will be housed, as the Tseng Family Wing. The campus also will seek to rename its College of Extended Learning the Roland Tseng College of Extended Learning.

According to CSUN records, Tseng took only one regular credit course at the campus, a summer English course in 1974, but the entrepreneur said he also took one or more extension courses. He later went to Pepperdine University in Malibu, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in business.

Tseng said he assembled his collection with his own purchases and gifts from his family.

In recent years, Tseng said his business interests have been related to technology ventures based in Northern California. He now owns Native Software, which he said has developed a digital video camera that uses global positioning technology to document archeological sites.

The biggest previous pledge to any Cal State campus was a gift valued at $23.3 million from Unocal to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

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