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UCLA gets $100-million donation

Half of the gift from Meyer Luskin and his wife, Renee, will go to the School of Public Affairs to support teaching and research in public policy, urban planning and social welfare. The rest will go toward building an on-campus hotel and conference center.

January 26, 2011|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times
  • Meyer and Renee Luskin's gift will benefit the university's School of Public Affairs.
Meyer and Renee Luskin's gift will benefit the university's… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

A UCLA alumnus who earned a fortune in the animal feed business is donating $100 million to the Westwood campus for its school of public affairs and the controversial construction of an on-campus hotel and conference center, officials plan to announce Wednesday.

The gift from Meyer Luskin and his wife, Renee, is the second largest ever to UCLA. It is topped only by entertainment industry mogul David Geffen's $200-million donation to UCLA's medical school in 2002.

Half of the Luskin donation will go to UCLA's School of Public Affairs, where it will support graduate student financial aid, and teaching and research in such fields as public policy, urban planning and social welfare. The school will be renamed in honor of the couple.

The other half of the gift will help build a 282-room conference center and faculty club that is intended to replace the existing campus faculty center if opposition does not alter or stop the project.

Meyer Luskin, 85, president and chairman of Scope Industries, a Santa Monica-based firm that recycles bakery waste into an ingredient in animal feed, said he could think of no better use for his money than to support a university.

"Education is the fountain of a good life," said Luskin, who commuted from Boyle Heights to UCLA as a scholarship student in the 1940s. "If you want to do the best for somebody, give them a good education."

Public policy studies do not receive enough funding, Luskin said, especially compared with the sciences. "More money should go into teaching people the techniques of helping each other and living together and figuring out how society works best," he said. "The School of Public Affairs will do that."

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said he was "extraordinarily grateful" for the Luskins' gift, which he described as transformational for the campus. The money for public affairs studies, he said, "will move a school that has some outstanding departments now to a new level."

As for the plans for the conference center, Block and other supporters say the existing, half-century-old faculty club is outdated and that the campus badly needs a place where visiting scholars can stay.

"This will be the meeting place for important discussions among academic leaders of the world and will be extremely beneficial to our state and to our campus," Block said. The current club, a one-story building without residential facilities, will be replaced as part of the new, $160-million complex.

Even before the donation was announced, plans to demolish the faculty club had triggered debate. Critics say the much larger replacement complex is a waste of money and risky investment during the UC system's current budget crisis. But if the project goes forward, they said, the conference center should be built elsewhere on campus without demolishing a beloved building.

On Monday night, about 120 people, including retired professors who use the club for social events, attended a meeting at the facility and heard critics urge UC administrators to drop or change the proposal. "A large hotel on the UCLA campus would be an embarrassment to the university at these times of great financial need," said James Lake, a professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology.

About $40 million of the Luskins' donation will go toward construction of the center and $10 million to an endowment for programming and other costs there, UCLA officials said. The remaining $120 million of construction costs will be financed by bonds that are expected to be repaid through rental and room revenue, according to the plan. Construction is scheduled to begin in the spring 2012 and be completed in late 2014.

Luskin, in a telephone interview, said he recently learned of the opposition to the center but remained committed to the proposal. "They have a perfect right to object, but I think the greater good for the overwhelming majority of people connected to the university is to have a fine place to have a conference," he said.

Part of his allegiance to UCLA dates to his student days when he was awarded a $30 scholarship that covered all his fees, the businessman said. "I think, symbolically, that made a big impression on me," said Luskin, whose parents, a plumber and a homemaker, both immigrated to the U.S. from Eastern Europe. "The fact that an institution would allow somebody like me from Boyle Heights, who had a lot of love but not a lot of money, to attend, that was special. We need to keep that going."

Meyer and Renee Luskin, who live in Brentwood and have three children and four grandchildren, both received undergraduate degrees from UCLA, he in economics in 1949 and she in sociology in 1953. Meyer Luskin, who also earned a master's in business administration at Stanford University, worked as an investment counselor before he was hired at Scope in 1961.

The firm, which last year had revenue of $110 million and employs 250 people at plants around the country, sells animal feed products for poultry and dairy farms, said Luskin, who is now its majority shareholder. It previously also owned cosmetology schools but sold them in 2004.

Four years ago, the couple gave $5 million to UCLA's public affairs school to establish the Luskin Center for Innovation, a think tank for environmental and transportation issues, among other subjects. Their latest gift to the campus will be paid over several years, with $25 million donated immediately, officials said.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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