Cities nationwide — including in California — are confronting their Confederate history after a violent and fatal weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.
For the last several years, UCLA history professor Kelly Lytle Hernández has been reaching into Los Angeles history, back before the city was even city or California was even a state, to unearth evidence of how local and national governments, police and jail systems operated as a formalized machine of conquest and elimination targeting native, poor and non-white people.
Thanks to a $5 million gift from longtime supporter Meyer Luskin, UCLA will establish the Luskin Center for History and Policy, the first academic research center on the West Coast devoted to using history to publish knowledge that promotes solutions to present-day issues.
The new center will foster teaching, research and collaborations across campus and beyond the university that will direct historical insights to shaping policies and solving problems.
“I believe we can use history to better our lives,” said Luskin, the chairman, president and CEO of Scope Industries. “The best way to choose the path to the future is to know the roads that brought us to the present.”
The Luskin Center for History and Policy will be a pioneer in translating historical research into tangible and accessible sources of knowledge. The center will support policy-oriented projects developed by UCLA history faculty and their colleagues across campus, host visiting scholars and postdoctoral fellows and provide funding for graduate students. It will also sponsor new courses that will train students to analyze historical events and apply their knowledge to current issues.
“Meyer Luskin has given UCLA the means to build a new pathway to using historical knowledge for the greater good,” said Scott Waugh, UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost. “Situated in a global university with a public mission, the new center is well placed to have a decisive impact, from the local level all the way to the international level.”
The history department can already cite at least one recent example of the influence of historical research on public action. In 2015, Zev Yaroslavsky, a former Los Angeles County supervisor and now a senior fellow in history at UCLA, led a project examining the city’s bidding process for the 1984 Olympics. The resulting position paper was distilled into an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times and contributed to the decision by the Los Angeles City Council to delay a vote on the Olympic bid until all its provisions could be properly debated.
Stephen Aron, the Robert N. Burr Department Chair of the history department, said the center would be a hub for collaborative projects engaging researchers from the social sciences and the humanities as well as campus units including the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
“My goal is to make history matter more to more people, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than through this center,” Aron said. “We are indebted to Meyer for his generous and visionary action.”
Initially, the center will be under the direction of history professor and former department chair David Myers, working closely with Aron.
“There is a new urgency to understand and apply our historical knowledge to today’s world,” said Myers, holder of the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History. “The new Luskin Center will be a national trend-setter in bringing many different angles of historical perspective to bear on key issues in the country — and world — today.”
Myers said the center would help develop new forms of teaching to equip students with the historical tools to make sense of the world around them and thrive in any number of careers.
Luskin, who graduated in 1949, and his wife, Renee, who graduated in 1953, are among UCLA’s most generous supporters. In 2011, they donated $100 million — the second-largest gift ever to the campus — to support academic programs and capital improvements. The gift was equally divided between the UCLA School of Public Affairs, which was renamed in their honor, and the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center, which opened in 2016. Luskin co-chairs the UCLA Centennial Campaign Cabinet, serves on the campaign executive committee, and is a member of the UCLA Foundation board of directors.
Addressing graduates at the 2014 history department commencement, Luskin said, “The study of history creates important knowledge — but equally important is how you assemble and use that knowledge.”
If Mr. Trump expected Barack Obama, who will be the first president since Woodrow Wilson to continue living in Washington, to retire to silence, he got a rude awakening on Wednesday.
Nickoll Family Chair to be awarded to renowned history scholar and UCLA faculty member
History alumnus Ben Nickoll ’86 was brought up in a family in which helping others and giving back were the norm. Now, he has given back to his alma mater by establishing the Nickoll Family Endowed Chair in History, which will have a focus on women’s history. The inaugural holder will be renowned scholar and writer Brenda Stevenson, who will be formally installed on October 24.
“I am proud to have known Ben Nickoll since my days as Dean of Social Sciences,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh. “His professional career, values and character are testaments to the importance of a liberal arts education.”
He said that the gift would help to ensure the quality and relevance of UCLA’s history department for decades to come.
“As a historian myself, I am deeply touched.” He said.
History chair Stephen Aron said that the gift would bolster the department’s efforts to attract and retain world-class faculty like Stevenson, whose research focuses on the history of slavery in the U.S. and Atlantic World, particularly of enslaved women.
“With this wonderful gift, Ben Nickoll has signaled his belief in the enduring value of a history degree, of excellent teaching, and of studying the past to shape a better future,” Aron said.
Nickoll grew up near UCLA, so it was a familiar fixture in his childhood. He recalled skateboarding through the campus, hanging out in Westwood with friends and attending basketball games with his dad at Pauley Pavilion. His parents were actively involved in the local community and in politics.
“They stood up for what they believed and gave to causes where they could have an impact,” he said.
When he first enrolled at UCLA, he had no idea what he wanted to study.
“Then I took a class taught by Prof. Roger McGrath, a gifted storyteller who brought historical characters and events to life in the classroom,” Nickoll said. “I was hooked and became a history major soon after that.”
After graduation, despite a lack of investment experience, Nickoll moved across country and talked his way into a job on Wall Street. He held high-level positions at top investment banks before co-founding investment firm Ore Hill in 2002. After that firm was sold in 2011, he founded El Faro Partners, an investment firm focused on real estate, private equity, credit and agriculture.
Nickoll is a member of the history department’s Board of Advisors and gave the commencement address at the department’s graduation ceremony in 2008. He is also a founding member of the board of the Fink Center for Finance and Investments at the Anderson School of Business.
“My wife, Chrissy, and I acknowledge that there are many worthy causes and organizations,” Nickoll said. “We believe in focusing the majority of our energy in our local communities, not just financially but also with action when possible.”
And he said he felt the time was right to make a major gift to his home department at UCLA.
If the liberal arts and subjects like history continue to be overlooked in favor of the sciences and engineering, he said, students might not develop a sufficiently broad, informed world view.
“I believe that the study of history is relevant to all aspects of life,” he said. “Take the investment world—an investor needs to understand context and how elements affecting past performance can affect a company today and in the future.”
For her part, Stevenson said that the Nickoll chair would allow her to take her work to a different level.
“Thanks to the Nickoll chair, I will now have the resources to undertake larger projects more efficiently and expediently,” Stevenson said. “I’m also going to be hiring some undergraduates to do a long-term project that deals with the history of racial violence in America. Private funding is so important for research initiatives that really do make positive contributions to our lives and to the world and to educating students.”
A professor of history and of African American studies at UCLA, she is the author of several books, including Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South.
Although most of Stevenson’s work focuses on the 19th century, and particularly the Southern U.S., she received the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism award for her 2013 book about more recent events in Los Angeles, The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender and the Origins of the L.A. Riots. Stevenson has been awarded several fellowships, including a Guggenheim in 2015.
Stevenson is at work on two new books: a history of the slave family from the colonial through the antebellum eras and a history of slave women. Her work continues to shed light—on the page and in the classroom—on important parts of human history with a view to creating a more just society.
Muriel McClendon has been named Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for the UCLA College’s Division of Social Sciences. She succeeds Eric Avila, who is now the chair of the Chicana/o Studies Department.
McClendon teaches and writes about the social history of the English Reformation. She serves as Vice Chair for Graduate Affairs in the History Department, was formerly the Chair of the European Studies IDP, and has served on a number of campus committees.
She will serve as the Division’s liaison to Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang. She will interact with others in similar roles in each division and school across UCLA. As Associate Dean, McClendon will assist Interim Dean Laura Gómez in developing strategic plans and evaluating policies and practices aimed at promoting a diverse, inclusive and respectful environment for faculty, staff and students in Social Sciences.
Perhaps Kevan Harris’ greatest good fortune was to arrive in Iran as a sociologist with no preconceptions about its culture or values. An Iranian American, Harris grew up in Kentucky and then Chicago, where he earned a B.A. in economics and political science at Northwestern University.
UCLA history professor Joan Waugh is one of the country’s pre-eminent scholars on American history in the latter half of the 19th century and in particular the Civil War. She’s also a lifelong baseball fan who during her class “United States History 1865–1900,” spends one lecture focused on how baseball became American’s national pastime.
Before Dorothy “Dottie” Wellman ’50 passed away in 2013, she told her nephew, William Proebsting, that she did not want an obituary or service of remembrance. If she had allowed such a tribute, it surely would have highlighted her exceptional generosity in giving $2.2 million—during her lifetime and through her estate—to the Department of History on the campus she loved.
A well-known and beloved UCLA alumna, Dottie had begun pledging annual gifts toward the establishment of an endowed chair in the department, a testament to her abiding passion for Medieval History and the love of her life, her late husband Bob Wellman ’53.
After Dottie passed away in 2013, Proebsting, as executor of her estate, distributed the remaining assets in accordance with her living trust, establishing the Robert and Dorothy Wellman Chair in Medieval History and the Robert and Dorothy Wellman Graduate Fellowship in the UCLA Department of History.
“We are deeply grateful to Dottie Wellman for this visionary gift. The UCLA History Department has a storied tradition of great medievalists, and the Wellman Chair and Fellowship will allow us to continue to build on that foundation of excellence,” said David N. Myers, Professor and Chair of the History Department.
Dottie and Bob met as undergraduates at UCLA. Bob had contracted polio in his late teens and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. According to Proebsting, it was love at first sight, and they married in 1957.
“I always loved Dottie because she was such a character: funny and irreverent,” Proebsting said. And when he first met Bob at a family gathering, he recalled a “wonderful, warm, funny guy with a big personality who charmed the socks off us.”
After he graduated with a degree in sociology, Bob worked in the Office of the Chancellor from 1954 until his retirement in 1988. He was special assistant to former chancellors Franklin Murphy and Charles E. Young, and UCLA’s first compliance officer for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Section 504. He also served as treasurer, secretary-treasurer and president of the Men’s Faculty Club (later known as Collegium Bibendi).
Dottie was devoted to Bob and eventually became his full-time caregiver in the years leading up to his death in 1997 at age 70. In the 1950s and ’60s, she worked as a part-time researcher and editor for “The University Explorer,” an innovative, nationally broadcast radio program that explored UC-led research topics ranging from the atom bomb to narcotics addiction to the search for the biblical city of Gath.
“Dottie was an English major and a voracious reader,” Proebsting said. “She especially loved to read about the history of medieval England, a passion that continued right up to her death.”
Dottie audited many history courses while she and Bob were at UCLA, including numerous lecture courses taught by Scott Waugh, a history professor and now Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost. She and Waugh struck up a friendship that continued even after she moved to Oregon to be near her family after Bob’s death.
“It doesn’t surprise me that Dottie wanted to give back to the campus that brought her and Bob so much joy,” Waugh said. “The Wellmans’ connection to UCLA was longstanding and deeply personal, so these generous endowments represent an enduring legacy that is more poignant than most.”
Of his aunt’s endowments to the history department, Proebsting, a retired Oregon State horticulture professor, said, “I’m really happy Dottie chose to do this because I know how much UCLA meant to her and Bob. It’s the perfect capstone for their lives.”