In just a few days, UCLA space physicist Marco Velli will take a deep breath, look to the skies and take his place in history as part of the monumental Parker Solar Probe mission, billed as humanity’s first visit to the sun.
The UCLA College humanities division has received its largest ever gift — and one of the largest ever to any university philosophy department: $25 million in honor of two longtime UCLA faculty members.
Of the total, $20 million will support the philosophy department; the other $5 million will provide seed funding to create a planned $15 million endowment to provide financial support for graduate students in the humanities division.
Jordan Kaplan, his wife, Christine, and Jordan’s longtime business partner, Ken Panzer, made the gift in honor of Jordan’s parents, Renée and David Kaplan — each of whom has been a member of the UCLA faculty for almost 60 years — and to recognize his father’s contributions to the study of philosophy.
In recognition of the gift, UCLA’s Humanities Building will be renamed Renée and David Kaplan Hall.
“This extraordinary gift signals a new era for the humanities at UCLA and, in particular, for philosophy,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “It’s more important than ever to instill in our students the philosophical perspective that helps make sense of today’s complex societal challenges.”
Jordan Kaplan is the CEO and president of Douglas Emmett Inc., a real estate investment trust. David Kaplan is a renowned scholar of philosophical logic and the philosophy of language, and Renée Kaplan was a clinical professor of psychology and the director of training at UCLA Student Psychological Services. Both Renée and David earned doctorates at UCLA.
“We are proud to participate in UCLA’s Centennial Campaign and be able to meaningfully support Humanities and Philosophy, areas of study that we feel are particularly important now to the health of our modern society,” Jordan Kaplan said. “Our hope is that this gift will encourage others to recognize the importance of these departments and join us in providing them with very much needed support.”
The gift, the second largest made to the UCLA College during the ongoing Centennial Campaign for UCLA, comes two years after Renée, David, Jordan and Christine Kaplan donated funds to establish the Presidential Professor of Philosophy endowed chair.
The new gift will help the humanities division and philosophy department recruit and retain top faculty, and attract the most outstanding graduate students.
“We are deeply grateful for this inspirational gift from Christine and Jordan Kaplan and Ken Panzer,” said Scott Waugh, UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost. “It demonstrates not only their commitment to advancing the excellence of the humanities and our study of philosophy, but also their confidence in UCLA’s academic mission as we enter our second century.”
The study of philosophy has been a cornerstone of the humanities at UCLA since the campus’ founding in 1919; an endowed chair in philosophy that was established in 1928 was the first in UCLA’s history. Among the department’s current faculty are recipients of Mellon and Guggenheim fellowships and National Science Foundation grants, and members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Council of Learned Societies. UCLA doctoral graduates in philosophy have gone on to teach at the most preeminent universities around the world.
“This gift will help make our department of philosophy the bellwether for departments of its kind around the world,” said David Schaberg, dean of the humanities division. “Especially valuable is the opportunity to build a $15 million endowment for graduate students in the humanities on the basis of the generous matching fund the gift creates.”
Professor Seana Shiffrin, chair of the philosophy department, said the gift will be transformative for the future of the department.
“Philosophical issues touch on every aspect of life — including issues about what sort of creatures we are and could become, what we can know of ourselves and others, how we should treat one another, whether we are capable of forming a better society and what that would look like, and the significance of our mortality,” she said. “A philosophy education introduces students to captivating ideas and perennial questions while imparting crucial skills of analysis, argumentation, clarity, and precision.
“In its capacity both to stimulate and to discipline the imagination, training in philosophy empowers students to enter any career, while enriching their entire lives by opening up new avenues of thought and fresh possibilities for living.”
The gift is part of the UCLA Centennial Campaign, which is scheduled to conclude in December 2019, during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year.
The UCLA College has raised a record $111M during FY17-18, which is 172% of its annual target. This success has also propelled the College past its initial overall Centennial Campaign goal of $400M to a total of $471M, 18 months ahead of schedule.
With the funding, the new UCLA-led Synthetic Control Across Length-scales for Advancing Rechargeables center, or SCALAR, will help accelerate research on new types of chemistry and materials for rechargeable batteries.
Researchers from UCLA and the University of Oslo have documented a complex but universally felt emotion they call kama muta — a Sanskrit term that means “moved by love.”
Kevin thanks his mother’s persistence in pursuing her own education coupled with his father’s humble nature and drive to provide a safe and secure life for his family for molding him.
Obstacles and adversity have never stopped these three first-generation college students. They’ve only served to make the siblings stronger and the family prouder.
Children arriving at the U.S. border in search of asylum are frequently a particularly vulnerable population. In many cases fleeing violence and persecution, they also encounter hunger, illness and threats of physical harm along their hazardous journey to the border.
UCLA’s freshman seminar, Fiat Lux, partners with student-run Bearing Witness program to bring holocaust survivors to UCLA
At age 15, Ann Signett was surrounded by war. Every morning she would go out on her balcony and watch B17 bombers as they flew over her hometown of Rome during World War II.
Knowing that German occupation meant death for their Jewish family, Signett’s father led them to the mountain village of Alvito, 100 miles away. There, they were sheltered by a Catholic family for 10 months.
Signett’s story is just one of the personal histories that more than 100 students will hear through UCLA’s student-run Bearing Witness Program and the Fiat Lux seminar, “German 19: Bearing Witness: Interviewing Holocaust Survivors.”
Last quarter, Bearing Witness brings students together at UCLA Hillel for a total of four sessions to meet one-on-one with a group of 25 survivors. The students listen, learn, record and “bear witness” to the unique histories presented to them.
With every passing year, there is urgency on the part of survivors to get their message out. The oldest is 105 and the youngest is 76.
Signett, now 89 and surrounded by UCLA students, shares her story and hopes that it is never forgotten.
“I survived because I was hidden,” she said. “But there are survivors who survived the death camps. I was never in a death camp. I was the lucky one.”
In addition to interviewing survivors, a group of 20 students are learning about the Holocaust as part of the Fiat Lux seminar taught by Professor Todd Presner, who is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Director at the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies.
Presner has partnered with the Bearing Witness program for the past 10 years because he wants to engage freshmen early in their academic careers. As part of his seminar, students discuss historical issues and oral histories, and visit the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.
“Several students, year after year, come back and talk about their experience,” Presner said. “It deepens their interest in history, their interest in social justice issues, and their interest in community engagement.”
Students stand with survivors
Nadine Avari, a freshman in the UCLA College and originally from Pakistan, was immediately drawn to the Fiat Lux course. It offered her the perfect opportunity to interact with and learn directly from Holocaust survivors.
Before coming to UCLA, Avari says she had neither experienced much diversity nor met anyone from the Jewish community.
“Many freshmen come from really small, closed communities with narrow viewpoints,” Avari said. “UCLA is a diverse campus and hearing about the survivor’s experiences is an opportunity for students to be open and experience cultural diversity.”
Now, after studying the Holocaust in Presner’s class and hearing survivors’ personal testimonies, Avari said she feels empowered to ‘bear witness’ on their behalf.
“A lot of people disagree that the Holocaust happened,” said Avari. “And I can say, ‘No, I heard it first-hand from someone who went through it.’ No one can argue with that.”
Carol Roth, 76, is the youngest of the survivors. While Roth calls herself the “baby” of the group, she says that as long as she is living, it is her responsibility to educate a new generation as well as combat Holocaust deniers.
With a shaky voice, Roth tells students of the day she was walking on the beach with her husband and saw a blimp in the sky that read, ‘The Holocaust never happened.’
“I started crying because it was horrendous,” said Roth, who is originally from Couillet, Belgium. “It’s real, believe me. My mother was arrested by Nazis on the bus only because she was Jewish. They took her to the concentration camp Auschwitz. She was never heard from again.”
Honoring a disappearing generation
Sonia Khrapkova, 80, and a native of Stalingrad, Russia (now Volgograd) is also a child survivor.
In one session with students Khrapkova shared a sobering reality, “We will go, my generation,” Khrapkova said. “I’m 80 and soon there will be no people to talk to you.”
Although Khrapkova was four years old when the Germans arrived in Stalingrad, she tells students that she remembers details from 76 years ago “like it was yesterday.”
She recalls her family’s escape during the decisive Battle of Stalingrad.
“We put logs together, and we were on Volga River,” Khrapkova said. “We were running and running. The pilots were flying above us; the river was burning; the city was so slippery from the blood.”
Senior Daniella Chernak, a communication major and co-chair of the Bearing Witness program, understands the importance of personally hearing stories from survivors like Khrapkova.
“We are the last generation to bear witness to survivor testimonials and stories first-hand,” said Chernak. “Day after day, week after week, survivors actively choose to relive the unimaginable hardships of their lives by sharing them with us.”
When Khrapkova continues her story, she speaks of fleeing to Kyrgyzstan and eventually the Ukraine. It was there, in a small forest, that she witnessed Jewish parents and their children digging their own graves and being buried alive.
“I remember the earth looked like it was breathing,” said Khrapkova, whose family was fortunate enough to survive.
Khrapkova’s tragic memories have endured throughout the decades and are now in the hands of a new generation.
“Hearing survivor testimonial is a constant reminder that we cannot stand idly by while others face atrocities,” Chernak said. “The hundreds of students who participate each year leave the program more open-minded, knowledgeable, and committed to stopping biased injustices.”
Today, Khrapkova says that Bearing Witness gives her hope that this period of history will not be forgotten and will live long after she is gone.
“These UCLA students brought back my faith in the future generation,” Khrapkova said. “I am proud.”
Learn more about some of the Bearing Witness Holocaust Survivor Stories:
Andrew Rosenstein ’16, captures the stories of 16 Bearing Witness Survivors through the app “Light out of Darkness” on iTunes.
See archival interviews and read about Ann Signett’s story through the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
Special thanks to UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, UCLA Hillel, Café Europa, Jewish Family Services and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for their contributions to this article.
“How did we get so upside down?” the activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers asked an enthusiastic audience. Her talk, UCLA’s sixth annual Winston C. Doby Distinguished Lecture, was Feb. 28 at the Fowler Museum’s Lenart Auditorium.
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