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Abrams Wins Prize for Book on Incarcerated Youth Award is one of several Social Welfare accomplishments highlighted at annual conference

Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams’ book on the complex lives of youth who transition out of Los Angeles’ juvenile justice system and into adulthood has received the 2020 Society for Social Work and Research Book Award.

Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth” was recognized for its outstanding contributions to the advancement of knowledge and resolution of social problems.

Abrams and her co-author, triple Bruin Diane Terry BA ’02 MSW ’04 PhD ’12, received the prestigious award Jan. 18 during the annual conference of the Society for Social Work and Research in Washington, D.C.

This year’s conference highlighted several achievements by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare:

  • MSW students and faculty conducted a roundtable on their experiences providing legal assistance to migrants detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. After a week interviewing women and children held at a detention center in Dilley, Texas, the team created a set of tools for other advocates who are trying to help migrants who have faced trauma.
  • Abrams was formally inducted into the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, a national honor society recognizing excellence in the field. Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, a member of the academy since 2017, delivered the induction address.
  • Maggie Thomas, who will join the Social Welfare faculty as an assistant professor in the fall, received the 2020 Doctoral Fellows Award for her dissertation, “Material Hardship, Public Assistance and Child Wellbeing: A Panel Data Study.”
  • Research by eight faculty, 12 Ph.D. students and four MSW students or recent graduates was presented during the five-day conference’s symposia, workshops, roundtables, and paper and poster presentations.

 

Learning Real-World Policy Skills to Effect Change

UCLA Luskin was spotlighted as one of four North American schools that excel in equipping students with the practical skills to confront national policy challenges. “The future policy experts from these universities will save the world,” said the article by Study International, which cited the Luskin School’s environment of academic cross-collaboration and leadership programs that develop students’ professional skills. “This merging of education and practice result in UCLA Luskin graduates who are ready to become agents of change as practitioners, researchers and policymakers in the public, private and non-governmental sectors,” the article noted. Public policy, it emphasized, is “more than just a theoretical exercise.”


 

Our Year of Anniversaries The Luskin School marks its 25th year poised to expand, innovate and extend its reach into the community, nation and world

By Mary Braswell 

In a landmark year for UCLA, the celebration may be loudest in the northwest corner of campus, home to the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

This year marks both the university’s centennial and the Luskin School’s silver anniversary — a quarter-century dedicated to advancing the public good through teaching, research, advocacy and innovation.

It’s clearly a time to party, and a record 620 students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends answered the call in September, gathering at the annual Block Party to raise a toast to UCLA Luskin. But it’s also a time to reflect on lessons from an initially rocky union and, most importantly, to create a roadmap for the future.

As 2020 dawns, Dean Gary Segura is confident that a collaborative spirit among the three pillars of planning, policymaking and social welfare will invigorate UCLA Luskin and extend its reach into the community, nation and world.

“What ties us together as a School is our focus on human well-being, broadly conceived,” Segura said. “The Luskin faculty have received Ph.D.s from 14 different fields of study. Our disciplines may encourage us to focus on well-being at the individual, family, community, metropolitan, polity or even global levels of analysis. But what we share in common is the conviction that social fabrics and social institutions are best when they facilitate human security, dignity and opportunity.”

In the three years since Segura’s arrival, the School has seen remarkable growth. A signature achievement is the creation of an undergraduate major in public affairs, which melds critical thinking, experiential learning, research methodology and a public service ethos. More than 250 students have already come on board.

The undergraduate curriculum draws in faculty from every UCLA Luskin program, all with the common goal of providing a holistic, transdisciplinary public affairs education. As part of that effort, explorations are underway for an additional degree: the executive master’s in public affairs, designed to equip professionals and public servants to step into leadership positions.

Expanding knowledge is at the core, fueled by the scholarship of faculty and a wide range of research centers. In just over two years, UCLA Luskin has launched several new ventures:

Latino Policy and Politics Initiative combines policy analysis with civic engagement, and recently received $2.5 million in support from the California Legislature.

International Development and Policy Outreach focuses on research aimed at empowering women and children around the world.

Latin American Cities Initiative, commonly known as Ciudades, builds ties among planners and policymakers across the Americas.

This year, they will be joined by the Hub for Health Innovation, Policy and Practice, which conducts research to improve community health, particularly among the LGBTQ population and other marginalized groups. In addition, the School expects to launch a global policy initiative to foster safe and welcoming schools and communities to demonstrate that good science can be used to better the lives of students around the world.

The schools initiative will be directed by Professor Ron Avi Astor, an internationally recognized expert on school safety and violence, who joined the faculty in Social Welfare this academic year. His appointment is part of an effort by Segura to broaden the faculty’s expertise and diversity. Of the 19 faculty appointments Segura has made, 14 are women and 12 are people of color.

“Our School is now one of the most diverse and interdisciplinary units in the University of California system,” Segura said. “We are growing in a way that reflects the state’s diverse and dynamic population, and this makes us profoundly well-positioned to engage, educate and contribute to the world around us.”

That commitment to reach beyond the campus was underscored in April 2019 at the first Luskin Summit, a cross-sector conference bringing public officials, civic leaders, philanthropists and other advocates together with UCLA Luskin’s faculty — all in pursuit of a “Livable L.A.”

The summit, which officially launched the School’s 25th anniversary celebration, will return to campus April 22 under the unifying theme “A Call to Action.” Participants will search for solutions to problems centering on housing, immigration, health, education and — fittingly, as the summit will take place on Earth Day — sustainability.

The legacy of doing good reaches far past the quarter-century mark, of course. Social Welfare’s graduate program dates to 1947. Urban planning at UCLA launched in 1969 in conjunction with architecture. A newly created public policy program was added in 1994, in what many viewed at the time as a shotgun marriage.

The new School of Public Policy and Social Research emerged in an era of reckoning triggered by post-recession budget cutbacks. Among other belt-tightening measures to contend with a loss of tens of millions of dollars in state support, UCLA decided to reconfigure all of its professional schools.

The early years were unsettled, as three disparate entities forged their identity under one roof. Many people believed the merger damaged the stature of respected programs and UCLA overall. Some questioned the motives of university leadership, and others were determined to preserve their departments as singular entities rather than seeking a cohesive whole.

“It wasn’t a happy transition,” said Allan Heskin, an urban planning professor at the time. “They didn’t take a vote and ask us.”

Longtime staff member Marsha Brown B.A. ’70 said that the late professor John Friedmann was the urban planning department chair at the time. He asked Brown to take a walk with him. “And he said, ‘They are going to be splitting urban planning and architecture and forming a new school.’ It was shocking.”

The move was very controversial. “People were really very upset about it and writing letters of protest,” she said.

“Quite frankly, a lot of us were really fairly strongly alienated by the decision,” alumnus Jeffry Carpenter recalled. “There was a superficial presumption on the part of university administration that there was some sort of linkage or relationship there that they imagined should exist. It is not so much of a relationship because the actual practice tends to be very, very different.”

Gerry Laviña, director of social welfare field education at UCLA Luskin, also had a front-row seat for the School’s difficult birth.

“There was a lot of anger among both faculty and students,” recalled Laviña, who earned his master’s in social welfare in 1988, then joined the field faculty in 1993. “What would this mean for our MSW? Would we be seen as lesser than?”

But he added, “What started out as a forced venture became a beautiful outcome.”

Over the years, resentments have faded, faculty from different disciplines have increasingly sought to learn from one another, and students have benefited from a wider array of cross-departmental resources.

“We know relationships, organizations, people need time to grow and come together as one,” Laviña said. “I don’t know if we’re fully there yet, but we’re so much better than we were even five years ago. I look forward to the next five years and beyond.”

Throughout the early years, there was one consensus: Very few cared for the new school’s name or awkward acronym, SPPSR. They lived with it until being rechristened in September 2004 as the UCLA School of Public Affairs. In 2011, the current name — the Meyer and Renee Luskin School of Public Affairs — came along with a transformative gift of $50 million that brought the resources and ambition to launch a period of expansion and innovation.

At the Block Party, benefactor Renee Luskin reflected on the journey.

“I want to express how much it means to Meyer and myself to be connected to such an outstanding school here at UCLA,” she said, thanking the faculty, staff, students and advisors for their unflagging passion and dedication. “As they say,” she concluded, “we’ve come a long way, baby.”

 

Urban Planning Turns 50 Longtime observers say activist spirit of its 1960s creation still permeates the program

By Les Dunseith

Fifty years ago, moon landings made headlines, flower children flocked to Woodstock, and college campuses across the nation experienced sometimes-violent protest over issues such as the Vietnam War. As the turbulent ’60s gave way to the 1970s, it was a time of change. Unrest. New ideas.

And amid that backdrop of societal upheaval, the study of urban planning got its start at UCLA.

Donald Shoup, the longtime UCLA professor, was there to see it. Shoup had arrived at UCLA in 1968 as a postdoctoral scholar at the same time as Harvey S. Perloff, the founding dean of the new School of Architecture and Urban Planning, “who was a great figure in urban planning, of course.”

From the beginning, the UCLA planning program under Perloff reflected an activist ethos and a strong interest in equity. “I think that we look very carefully at income distribution and the effects of how any policy would affect lower-income people. We look at how to reverse that pattern,” Shoup said.

Jeffry Carpenter was also studying at UCLA in 1969, and he was among the first group of students to attain a degree in urban planning. “We were supposed to graduate in the summer of ’71. And some of us did,” Carpenter said with a laugh. “And some of us didn’t.”

Carpenter, who would go on to leadership roles as a planner for what was then known as the Southern California Rapid Transit District, the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency and elsewhere, said graduate programs in planning were rare at the time — almost unprecedented.

“The challenge was that in the field, there was a profession. People were selling planning services, and there were planner positions and there were planning consultants, but there weren’t planning degrees,” Carpenter recalled.

When people like him got those first degrees, “the thought was that it would be something really useful. But the challenge was nobody knew exactly what that was,” Carpenter said. “We were — both the faculty and the students — still feeling our way.”

Nowadays, Shoup is a distinguished research professor whose landmark work on parking reform has had broad impact. He left Westwood in the early 1970s to work at the University of Michigan but returned to UCLA to stay in 1974. A year later, Allan Heskin joined him on the urban planning faculty and continued until he retired as a professor in 2001.

Urban planning with a social conscience is important to Heskin.

“I have a history of being an activist,” said Heskin, who oversaw student admissions for some time. “And I always looked for activist students — people who had done things in the world.”

During his two-and-a-half decades at UCLA, faculty and student planners were active in changing the approach of Los Angeles and other local cities to issues related to land use and housing affordability. UCLA scholars were highly influential in Santa Monica political reform, for example, and Heskin remembers that an early graduate, Gary Squier, “almost single-handedly created the housing department” for the city of Los Angeles. Squier, who died in 2012, became the city’s first housing director in 1990.

“Getting the city of L.A. to take responsibility for housing people in Los Angeles was just a major change,” Heskin recalled. “The city’s policy before the UCLA faculty and students did their thing was to say that housing is a federal responsibility, and the city doesn’t do it, and is not concerned!”

Marsha Brown B.A. ’70, who was a manager in the urban planning program at UCLA from 1980 to 2014, said, “There has always been a history of activism.”

The planning faculty and students “are very passionate about what they believe in — whether it’s housing or traffic or diversity or women’s issues. There’s always been a political bent to it,” Brown said. “The goal was always trying to make cities better for the people who live in them.”

Vinit Mukhija, professor and current chair of Urban Planning at UCLA, has been on the faculty since 2001.

He thinks a willingness to defy expectations has been central to the program’s enduring success.

“We never accepted narrow limits of planning or narrow definitions,” he said. “It’s not just land use and transportation and housing. It is much broader than that.”

Somewhat infamously, the program was abruptly split away from architecture in the 1990s and placed into what became the current Luskin School of Public Affairs. But many aspects of today’s UCLA planning program were allowed to blossom naturally over time.

Shoup sees the willingness of faculty to conduct research with students as colleagues as a key to success.

“I think that’s one of the greatest strengths of our program — the collegial relationships between the faculty and the students, and the cooperative learning.”

As faculty have come and gone, the planning program has changed. For instance, transportation planning became more prominent over time. That importance stands to reason in a city known for gridlock, Brown said. “In Los Angeles, transportation is important, you know.”

Another big change has been the gender balance. Shoup gave a recent example — each year he meets with incoming students and tells them why they might want to focus on transportation planning. In his most-recent meeting, “there were 17 women and one man. The complaint at one time was that there were very few women in transportation. So society has changed.”

And the program itself continues to evolve. In time for the 50th anniversary celebration in May 2020, Mukhija said an expanded partnership with Sciences Po in Paris will have been approved. It will offer dual degrees from both universities in a two-year course of study.

Carpenter, who was there in the beginning, thinks future success in urban planning and society as a whole will hinge on continuing to foster the intellectual curiosity of young people.

“The faculty of the school have a very keen appreciation of the powers of perception and understanding, and more particularly also realizing they need to prepare the students to be effective and assume a role and to grow in that role,” he said. “That’s a very encouraging development.”

School Safety Expert Is Among 4 New Faculty Additions

By Stan Paul

Three new faculty members in social welfare and one in urban planning joined UCLA Luskin as of the fall quarter.

They bring to 19 the total number of new faculty added during the tenure of Dean Gary Segura to UCLA Luskin’s three professional programs and its undergraduate major.

Joining social welfare: Professor Ron Avi Astor, an expert on bullying and school violence; Assistant Professor Cindy Sangalang, who examines how race, migration and culture intersect to shape health and well-being in immigrant and refugee communities; and Assistant Professor Lee Ann Wang, whose current work looks at the intersection of immigration law and criminalization through gender and sexual violence.

New to urban planning is Assistant Professor Veronica Herrera, who studies the politics of development in Global South cities, with a focus on Latin America. Her research emphasizes environmental policymaking, sustainability and water policy.

Astor holds a joint appointment as professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Sangalang and Wang have joint appointments as assistant professors in Asian American Studies.

Astor holds the Marjory Crump Chair in Social Welfare. His work examines the role of the physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts in schools related to different kinds of bullying and school violence. Examples include sexual harassment, cyber bullying, discrimination, hate acts, school fights, emotional abuse, weapon use and teacher/child violence. His most recent co-authored book on the subject, “Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts: Culture, Organization, and Time,” was published last January.

“Bullying is such a big term that it gives us a lot of room,” said Astor, whose first studies related to bullying and school violence tied to vulnerable groups such as homeless and foster children. “So being in these literatures you realize that some of the research has been more generic, so it does matter if it’s LGBTQ or if it’s military kids, or homeless or foster kids … because the dynamics are a little bit different.”

His research is cross-cultural and makes comparisons between the United States and other places, including such countries as Israel, China, Cameroon and Kosovo.

“Professor Astor is one of the foremost experts in the world on how to cultivate safe and nurturing schools for children around the globe,” said Professor Laura Abrams, chair of social welfare. “This research is critical to social work as schools play a major role in shaping key child outcomes.”

Astor is a Southern California native who came to UCLA after a long research and teaching appointment at the University of Michigan and, more recently, at USC.

Dean’s Message Path-breaking interdisciplinary scholarship and a tradition of public service are the hallmarks of UCLA Luskin at 25 years

25, 50, 75, 100 and 2 …

In 2019, we celebrated two milestones—the centennial of UCLA and the 25th anniversary of the Luskin School.

What does 100 years of UCLA mean? Is it merely a milestone signified by a round number? When the University of California, Los Angeles, was created out of the Southern Branch of the California Normal School, few could have imagined that, today, UCLA would be counted among the finest institutions of higher learning in the world, and the nation’s finest taxpayer-supported institution. In its early years, it was considered the southern “branch” of our older sibling in Berkeley, and more than a few actors in California would have preferred it to stay as such. Today, it is the largest and most comprehensive campus in the system and, in the minds of several ranking agencies and in the hearts of countless Bruins, the finest in the land.

In 1994, the campus formed what would become UCLA Luskin by merging the School of Social Welfare with the program in Urban Planning. Like UCLA, the School we are today has aspects that date to our roots but reflects new, emergent properties of what we have become, including the addition of Public Policy. At 25, Luskin is a mature intellectual community in which dialogue between students and faculty focused on different units of analysis — the individual, the family, the community, the state — helps us learn and grow from the insights of one another and our respective disciplines. More than merely three departments, today Luskin’s core faculty hold doctorates in 14 different disciplinary traditions, representing a nearly endless variety of methodologies, perspectives and research questions about how best to improve the human condition. The School’s mission, defined and refined over these last 25 years, has become clear: to train change agents and generate new knowledge and insight in pursuit of social justice and human well-being.

It would be inaccurate — and do a disservice to our predecessors — if we did not acknowledge that much of the good work of UCLA Luskin started long prior to the School’s formation 25 years ago. In spring 2020, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Urban Planning at UCLA. And in 2021-22, we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Social Welfare at UCLA. Those two units have trained thousands of Bruin alums whose efforts on behalf of a better Los Angeles and a healthier California are long established. You’ll hear more about those celebrations in the near-term, but it is important at moments like these that we pay tribute to those whose hard work came long before us.

And finally… “2”? Yep, we are in the second year of our newest program, the Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs. At the start of the 2018-19 academic year, no such major was declared by a UCLA undergraduate. Today, we have 270 majors and pre-majors enrolled in 42 courses this academic year, and whose instruction is supported by 89 graduate teaching assistants — Luskin professional and doctoral students — whose education is supported with those resources. And in June 2021, we will graduate our first class.

New programs, pedagogical innovation, path-breaking interdisciplinary scholarship in the interest of the social good and a tradition of public service — these are the hallmarks of UCLA Luskin at 25 years old, these are the values that separate a great public university like UCLA from its competitors, and these are the accomplishments we celebrate at milestones like these.

All the best,
Gary

In Support New scholarship funds, regional salons and a Centennial milestone

LUSKIN SCHOOL SURPASSES CENTENNIAL CAMPAIGN GOAL

With support from individual, foundation and corporate donors, the Luskin School surpassed its $70M Centennial Campaign goal and celebrated the milestone with the Luskin Board at its March meeting. Since then, the School has continued to raise funds for students, faculty, research and programs. Additional support is still needed in these key categories to ensure that we continue to produce exceptional results.

UCLA LUSKIN ESTABLISHES BARBARA EDELSTON YAROSLAVSKY MEMORIAL FUND

Barbara Edelston Yaroslavsky was an extraordinary activist and community leader who made an indelible impact on the lives she touched. Before her death in December 2018, she was an advocate for access to quality health care for all, and a champion for families and education — fiercely devoting herself to improving the lives of every Californian.

Barbara Edelston Yaroslavsky and Zev Yaroslavsky

In her memory and spirit, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and faculty member Zev Yaroslavsky are joining together to create the Barbara Yaroslavsky Memorial Fellowship and Internship Fund.

“While Barbara has left an enormous legacy, this project will ensure that her passion for equity and access to quality health care will live on in future generations of policymakers who share her commitment,” said her husband, Zev. “It is here at UCLA that our courtship started 52 years ago, and it is appropriate that this fund be established at this university she loved so much.”

The fund will reflect Barbara’s relentless dedication and joyful spirit by honoring students who exemplify the meaningful impact that individuals can make in their communities. Fellowships and internship stipends will be awarded to students who demonstrate exemplary leadership among their classmates and service to their communities, with a particular emphasis on health and public health policy.

Gifts to the Barbara Yaroslavsky Memorial Fund will help defray the cost of tuition, fees and other educational expenses so students can focus on their studies.

“These gifts will make a difference in the life of someone who will go on to make a difference in our world as a practitioner, researcher or policymaker,” said Nicole Payton, executive director of external relations at UCLA Luskin.

SHELL FAMILY ESTABLISHES CENTENNIAL SCHOLARSHIP MATCHING FUND

Laura and Jeff Shell

Laura Shell, a member of the UCLA Luskin Board of Advisors, and her husband, Jeff, have established an endowed scholarship to support students in the new undergraduate program. The UCLA Chancellor’s Centennial Scholars Match Initiative, which matches gifts for such scholarships at 50 percent, will establish the Shell Family Centennial Scholarship Matching Fund. The funds will support scholarships for students who have declared the new public affairs major and have demonstrated financial need. The first recipients of the scholarship will be announced in 2020.

“We want to make the excellent college education provided by the UCLA Luskin School possible for students without the worry of tuition,” Laura Shell said. “We are thrilled our contribution will support the education of future leaders in our community, who will undoubtedly work in public service after graduation.”

Shell, who earned a B.A. in political science from UCLA and a master’s in public administration from USC, has maintained a 25-year career working in local government and with environmental organizations. The Shells’ gift is part of a network of support inspired by the launch of the UCLA Luskin undergraduate program.

Professor Manisha Shah at a September salon.

 

REGIONAL SALONS HIGHLIGHT FACULTY RESEARCH

The Luskin Development team is partnering with Luskin alumni in New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and other areas to showcase our impressive faculty research and milestones of the School. It is wonderful to share the great work of UCLA Luskin throughout the United States. Be on the lookout for upcoming events in your area. A September salon featured Manisha Shah, professor of public policy and director of the International Development and Policy Outreach initiative. She spoke about her research, which spans the globe in pursuit of health, education and economic development policy solutions to challenges faced by women, adolescents and children. In November, R. Jisung Park of the public policy faculty spoke in San Francisco about climate change, extreme heat and its adverse effects on disadvantaged communities, especially students and workers.

Laura Scarano

DEAN’S ASSOCIATES OFFER LEADERSHIP AND SUPPORT

This year, UCLA Luskin is bringing back the Dean’s Associates, a leadership giving society comprised of donors with cumulative giving of $1,000 or more annually to any facet of the School of Public Affairs. In addition to our deep appreciation for your support, Dean’s Associates receive reserved seating at popular events, a designated point of contact at the School and more. If you would like to learn more or have any questions, please contact Associate Director of Development Laura Scarano at lscarano@luskin.ucla.edu or (310) 794-2174.

Marcia Choo of Wells Fargo.

WELLS FARGO GIFT WILL SUPPORT RESEARCH AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

Wells Fargo made a generous gift to support research and fellowships that address issues relating to poverty, affordable housing, transportation and the environment. Funding from this gift will also be used to promote civic engagement opportunities and leadership development, including workshops, UCLA Luskin Day at Los Angeles City Hall and other advocacy programming that influences policymaking.

Building Community Through Food, Fun and Creative Costumery

A record 130-plus UCLA Luskin graduate students attended this year’s Luskin Halloween Party, co-hosted by the Association of MPP Students, the MSW Student Alliance and the Urban Planning Student Association. Guests enjoyed fellowship, food and drink, creative costumery and music courtesy of UCLA Luskin’s favorite DJ alumna, Caroline Calderon MURP ’19. The Halloween gathering is typically the most ambitious cross-departmental student government effort of the year at the Luskin School. But it was more than just a night of fun among friends and classmates, said staff liaison Kevin Franco, the admissions and advising officer for Public Policy. “I often get asked by prospective students what makes our program so unique. Aside from the obvious response about our curriculum and resources, I often talk to them about how as a department we are intentional in building community through our student-run organizations,” Franco said. At the Halloween Party, he said, “I saw community come together and build camaraderie, an essential factor in creating a positive graduate experience.” — John Danly

View more photos from the 2019 Luskin Halloween Party.

 

Storper on Limitations of ‘Zoning Shock Therapy’

Michael Storper, distinguished professor of regional and international development in urban planning, shared his views on the future of housing in California during a livestreamed conversation hosted by 48 Hills, an alternative news site in San Francisco. The manifold roots of the affordable housing crisis include high construction costs, income inequality, cumbersome zoning and regulation, and ongoing discrimination, Storper said. He took issue with the approach behind Senate Bill 50, the now-tabled state legislation that would permit blanket upzoning to increase the housing supply. “Both academics and some housing activists have generated a master narrative that concentrates centrally on just one element of that broader puzzle, which is zoning and regulation, and very specifically on getting more housing built as the master solution to the multifaceted problem of housing,” Storper said. He added that he was not aware of any data or research showing that this “zoning shock therapy” would work.


 

Meyer and Renee Luskin Receive UCLA Medal The honor recognizes the couple’s efforts to ‘create opportunity for all through education and research’

By Mary Braswell

Meyer and Renee Luskin — alumni, benefactors and lifelong friends of UCLA — received the university’s highest honor at a reception that was followed by an engaging symposium inspired by their deep commitment to education and social justice.

Chancellor Gene Block bestowed the UCLA Medal on the Luskins on May 29, at the conference center bearing their name.

“What drives Meyer and Renee is precisely what drives UCLA: a desire to solve society’s biggest challenges and to create opportunity for all through education and research,” Block said.

Countless UCLA students have benefited from scholarships funded by the Luskins, and the couple’s legacy can be seen across the campus. The School of Public Affairs was rechristened with the Luskin name in 2011, providing the resources to further its research efforts and expand educational opportunities for students in the fields of public affairs, public policy, social welfare and urban planning.

The UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center, which opened in 2016 in the heart of campus, is a structure of “ageless grace” that will bring people together to explore new ideas for generations to come, Block said.

The medal citation read aloud by the chancellor specifically recognizes the Luskins for their “entrepreneurial spirit and a vision for recycling and repurposing available resources,” as well as being “catalysts for convening people around important issues that require collaboration.”

After receiving the UCLA Medal, Renee Luskin, who earned a B.A. in sociology in 1953, said it has been a “true joy” to be part of the university’s remarkable journey. “We have met so many extraordinary people and made treasured friendships here,” she said.

Meyer Luskin, who grew up in New York City’s Lower East Side and Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights in an immigrant family with little education or financial means, remembered his first day at UCLA.

“I recall a shy, innocent, simple, somewhat odd, not-quite-17-year-old freshman walking up Janss Steps in 1942. Yes, that was 77 years ago,” said Luskin, who completed his bachelor’s degree in economics in 1949 after a break for military service during World War II.

“How do I feel? UCLA, one of the world’s great universities, is awarding me its highest honor. It has been an incredibly long and fortunate journey to this podium.”

The medal ceremony drew family, friends and colleagues of the Luskins along with UCLA faculty, staff and supporters. It was followed by a symposium moderated by Gary Segura, dean of the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Renee and Meyer Luskin, he said, “are two people who are thoughtful and critical of social conditions that they see as inequitable, who embrace the role of education as the linchpin of democracy, who are remarkably intellectually curious about everything under the sun, and whose affection for and celebration of the many students whose lives they have touched is amazing to witness.”

In that spirit, Segura guided the conversation by panelists selected for their varied perspectives on UCLA’s mission and because they could speak to issues important to the Luskins:

  • JR DeShazo, public policy chair and director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, specializes in environmental policy and politics.
  • Andrea Ghez, head of UCLA’s Galactic Center Group, is a globally recognized expert in observational astrophysics.
  • Leonard Kleinrock, distinguished professor of computer science who has been on the UCLA faculty since 1963, developed the mathematical theory of packet networks, the technology underpinning the Internet.
  • David Myers, director of the Luskin Center for History and Policy, has written extensively on modern Jewish intellectual and cultural history.
  • Andrew Vega, who earned his B.A. in English language and literature from UCLA in 2007, is principal of the Alliance Renee and Meyer Luskin Academy, and is known for helping to turn around low-performing schools.

The conversation touched on inequity in education and threats posed by environmental degradation and technology used for inappropriate or even nefarious purposes. It also recognized the spirit of innovation kindled at UCLA, seen in the drive and ingenuity of its students.

“I think this is an important lesson for our students — and all of us, really — to never let our fear of failure stop us from taking risks,” Block said.

The couple have also provided financial support at UCLA for the Legal Ethics program at UCLA Law, the Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin.

View additional photos from the event in an album on Flickr.

 

Luskins Receive UCLA Medal