Tuesday, September 24

Editorial: Student-athlete facility an unjustified priority given lack of scholarship funds


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Chancellor Gene Block was firm when he spoke to the Daily Bruin Editorial Board in December: Raising funds for student scholarships was his top priority for the school year.

That priority lasted all of two months.

A shiny, three-story, 20,000-square-foot academic facility for student-athletes will be gracing campus following a $15 million donation from alumnus Morris “Mo” Ostin. UCLA Athletics is launching a fundraising campaign to secure an additional $20 million in private donations to fund the center – a project that is being tacked onto UCLA’s Centennial Campaign.

The exclusivity of the soon-to-be-raised $35 million has raised a troubling number of eyebrows. But that’s not what the campus should be most worried about; rather, it’s the university’s commitment to pledge its limited resources to raise $20 million to complement Ostin’s $15 million.

It’s almost as if UCLA doesn’t have $524 million in student scholarships it ought to be fundraising.

The university can’t control where its donors want to put their money, but it can influence them to give to certain initiatives over others. The announcement and consequent promotion of the new facility sends a pretty clear message to donors: You can either give to a no-name scholarship fund or to a flashy academics facility for student-athletes.

It’s obvious which way donors will go.

In fact, it has been for quite some time. The university eclipsed its overall $4.2 billion fundraising goal in July, 18 months ahead of schedule, while meeting only 44 percent of its student scholarship subtarget. In the seven months preceding, the campaign got hold of only an additional $38 million – averaging $5.4 million per month – while at the same time receiving individual donations of $15 million to renovate the Botany Building and $25 million to rename the Humanities building and support humanities departments.

[Related: Editorial: Amid lackluster scholarship fundraising, UCLA needs innovative solutions]

Block realized as much, noting in December the difficulty of incentivizing donors to give to scholarships when glossy names on buildings are what sell. The chancellor went so far as to say the campaign’s $1 billion goal was overambitious – most considered it unfeasible – but that the university was seeking out innovative ways to get donors to open up their wallets.

Considering the scholarship fund has lagged behind for years, it should have been abundantly clear to administrators that donations are a zero-sum game: Donors are more likely to give to a single, enticing initiative than spread their money among several similarly themed efforts. Scholarship funding for the general student body has already been caught in the crosshairs of high-profile efforts – academic research, funding entrepreneurial studies in the UCLA Anderson School of Management, plastering names on buildings.

Yet the prioritization of Ostin’s academic facility for student-athletes only diminishes that meager pool of funding by enabling donors to give to an academic cause – albeit one only a sliver of the student population can benefit from.

Put another way, the university has rung the death knell of its student scholarship goal. And the biggest losers won’t be Block or his fellow administrators – they’ll be students.

Sure, UCLA has until December to crack its scholarship goal. Yet its so-called renewed efforts since August have been half-baked: Less than a quarter of the stories featured on the Centennial Campaign’s website promote student scholarships. Information regarding the Chancellor’s Centennial Scholars Match fund – a fundraising initiative Block himself spearheaded – is not easily reachable via the campaign’s site.

Ostin’s academic center undermines what was already a fractured, failing initiative. We can call on administrators to prioritize student scholarship efforts, but Block already showed us what that looks like: two months of stagnation, followed by broken hearts and promises.

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