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Photo of Sharon E. J. Gerstel

UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture Announces Appointment of Sharon E. J. Gerstel as Director

Photo of Sharon E. J. Gerstel

Sharon E. J. Gerstel

 

The UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture today announced the appointment of Sharon E. J. Gerstel as its inaugural director, effective July 1, 2019. Gerstel has served as the acting director of the Center since 2017.

In her role as director, Gerstel will develop a long-term vision for the Center, building on the university’s research and teaching strengths in Hellenic studies, including the expansion of courses in Modern Greek language and culture. Under her guidance, the Center will continue to forge strong partnerships with Hellenic organizations in Southern California.

“As someone who has worked in Greece for more than 30 years and who so closely identifies with Greek culture, I am honored and excited to take on this role,” said Gerstel. “The establishment of the Center demonstrates UCLA’s deep investment in the study and teaching of Hellenic culture, but also manifests its commitment to engage members of the community in the consideration of the rich history and culture of Greece, Cyprus, and the Hellenic diaspora. I am looking forward to strengthening our connections with cultural and educational institutions in Greece and Cyprus.”

In 2019, Gerstel was honored by the American Hellenic Council and the Hellenic Society of Constantinople for her work as acting director of the Center. She currently serves on the Board of the Greek Heritage Society of Southern California.

Said David Schaberg, UCLA’s Dean of Humanities, “With Professor Gerstel’s strong leadership, I have no doubt the Center will continue to forge strong connections with cultural institutions and universities near and far to highlight the significant legacy of Hellenic culture in our world today.”

In addition to its teaching and research mission, the Center, which was initiated in October 2017 by the commitment of a $5 million grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, already has become a vibrant cultural hub for the Los Angeles Hellenic community. Approximately 150,000 Americans of Greek and Cypriot ancestry live in California — more than in any other state except New York — with about half of them in Southern California, according to a 2006 U.S. Census Bureau survey.

“Professor Gerstel is a pillar for both the Greek community and Greece in Los Angeles. She is a genuine Philhellene and the most worthy person to take up the inaugural directorship of this new and important research and cultural center,” said Evgenia Beniatoglou, Consul General of Greece in Los Angeles.

Gerstel, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, the Institute of Fine Arts (NYU), and a former student at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, has been a Professor of Byzantine Art and Archaeology in the Department of Art History at UCLA since 2005. Prior to her tenure at UCLA, she taught at the University of Maryland and served as a research associate at the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies. As a specialist in the art and archaeology of medieval Greece, Gerstel has written or edited seven books and has authored dozens of articles in the fields of art history, archaeology, history and religious studies. Her most recent book, Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium: Art, Archaeology, and Ethnography, which was supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Mellon Foundation Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, received the 2016 Runciman Award from the Anglo-Hellenic League, the Inaugural Book Prize from the International Center for Medieval Art (ICMA), and the Maria Theocharis Prize from the Christian Archaeological Society in Greece.

Her current research focuses on the church of Hagioi Theodoroi in Vamvaka, Mani, and its community. She also is co-director of “Soundscapes of Byzantium,” a collaborative, transdisciplinary project that studies Byzantine chant, architecture and painting together with modern-day analyses of acoustics and psychoacoustics. The project, funded by both UCLA and USC, focuses primarily on the churches of Thessaloniki.The original $5 million grant establishing the Center was part of the UCLA Centennial Campaign, which is scheduled to conclude in December 2019 during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year. As part of the founding agreement, UCLA is raising an additional $3 million in eternal funding in support of the Center. For more information about The UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture, visit: https://hellenic.ucla.edu/

Jo Anne Van Tilburg, right, and Cristián Arévalo Pakarati

The stone faces and human problems on Easter Island

Excavation of Moai 156 (left) and 157. The visible difference in color and texture, and thus in preservation, is due to soil and depth coverage.

Excavation of Moai 156 (left) and 157. The visible difference in color and texture, and thus in preservation, is due to soil and depth coverage.

Archaeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg continues to seek insight from the statues and for the living descendants of their makers

In 1981, UCLA archaeology graduate student Jo Anne Van Tilburg first set foot on the island of Rapa Nui, which is commonly called Easter Island, eager to explore her interest in rock art by studying the iconic stone heads that enigmatically survey the landscape.

Van Tilburg was one of just a few thousand people who would visit Rapa Nui each year back then. And though the island to this day remains one the most remote inhabited islands in the world, a surge in annual visitors has placed its delicate ecosystem and archaeological treasures in jeopardy.

“When I went to Easter Island for the first time in ’81, the number of people who visited per year was about 2,500,” said Van Tilburg, director of the Easter Island Statue Project, the longest collaborative artifact inventory ever conducted on the Polynesian island that belongs to Chile. “As of last year the number of tourists who arrived was 150,000 from around the world.”

On April 21, which is Easter Sunday, CBS’ “60 Minutes” will air a special interview with Van Tilburg and Anderson Cooper filmed on the island, talking about efforts to preserve the moai (pronounced MO-eye) — the monolithic stone statues that were carved and placed on the island from around 1100 to 1400 and whose stoic faces have fascinated the world for decades.

Jo Anne Van Tilburg, right, and Cristián Arévalo Pakarati

Jo Anne Van Tilburg, right, and Cristián Arévalo Pakarati

Back in 2003, Van Tilburg, who is research associate at the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology and director of UCLA’s Rock Art Archive since 1997, was the first archaeologist since the 1950s to obtain permission from Chile’s National Council of Monuments and the Rapa Nui National Park, with the Rapa Nui community and in collaboration with the National Center of Conservation and Restoration, Santiago de Chile, to excavate the moai, which most people didn’t know included torsos, which are buried below the surface, prior to her work and the publicity surrounding it.

Her success in obtaining permission to dig on the island, she credits to a philosophy of “community archaeology.” She has spent nearly four decades among the people of Rapa Nui, listening, learning, making connections, making covenants with the elders of the society, reporting extensively on her findings. Major funding has been provided by the Archaeological Institute of America Site Preservation Fund.

“I think my patience and diligence was rewarded,” she said. “They saw me all those years getting really dirty doing the work. What they don’t like is when people come and think they have all the answers and then leave. That feels to the Rapanui like their history is being co-opted.”

Van Tilburg credits the sustained and generous support of UCLA’s Cotsen Institute as critical to her continued work on the island. She has also made it a point to include UCLA undergraduates from a variety of academic disciplines in the hands-on work on Rapa Nui, including Alice Hom who began as a work study student 20 years ago and who now serves as project manager for the Easter Island Statue Project.

Van Tilburg, who received her doctorate in archaeology from UCLA in 1989, is working on a massive book project harnessing her vast archive that will serve as an academic atlas of the island, its history and the meaning behind the moai. She used the proceeds of a previous book to invest in a local business, the Mana Gallery and Mana Gallery press, both of which highlight indigenous artists. And she helped the local community rediscover their canoe-making history through the 1995 creation of the Rapa Nui Outrigger Club.

Jo Anne Van Tilburg being interviewed by Anderson Cooper of “60 Minutes”

Jo Anne Van Tilburg being interviewed by Anderson Cooper of “60 Minutes”

Her co-director on the Easter Island Statue Project, Cristián Arévalo Pakarati, is Rapanui and a graphic artist by trade. Van Tilburg exclusively employs islanders for her excavation work. She’s traveled the world helping catalog items from the island that are now housed in museums like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and the British Museum in London. Van Tilburg does this to assist repatriation efforts.

Rapa Nui is more commonly known as Easter Island because Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen first landed there on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1722. But the people who already lived there (Polynesian descendants of a massive human migration more than 500 years earlier), simply called the place “home,” Van Tilburg said.

“Very few pacific islands originally had names,” Van Tilburg said. “What was named was a landmark or a star or something that brought you to it, but not necessarily the island itself.”

The “60 Minutes” interview also focuses on how current residents of the island are coping with increasing waves of tourism, which is almost always a double-edged sword, but is especially so in a fragile ecosystem, Van Tilburg said.

The now 150,000 annual visitors pale in comparison to the vast numbers of travelers who flock to Egypt’s pyramids and awe-inspiring archaeological sites, she noted.

The intricate rock art on the back of Moai 157.

The intricate rock art on the back of Moai 157.

“But by Rapa Nui standards, on an island where electricity is provided by a generator, water is precious and depleted, and all the infrastructure is stressed, 150,000 is a mob,” she said.

What’s more disheartening is the frequent disrespectful nature of some travelers who ignore the rules and climb on the moai, trample preserved spaces and sit on top of graves all in service of getting a photo of themselves picking the nose of an ancient artifact, Van Tilburg said.

The masses and the increasingly harmful glibness of the travelers are something the 5,700 residents of the island must grapple with. Only in the last decade or so have they been given governance of the national park where the moai are located. In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park.

Van Tilburg’s original impetus behind studying the moai is rooted in her curiosity about migration, marginalized people and how societies rise and fall.

“Rapa Nui was the last island settled probably in the whole westward movement that took place from southeast Asia across the Pacific,” Van Tilburg said. “I’m interested in what that might signal to us about today and why people are moving around the world the way they are.”

Rapanui society was traditionally hierarchical, led by a class of people who believed themselves God-appointed elites. These leaders dictated where the lower classes could live, how they would work to provide food for the elites and the population at large. The ruling class also determined how and when the moai would be built as the backdrop for exchange and ceremony.

“This inherently institutionalized religious hierarchy produced an inequitable society,” Van Tilburg said. “They were very successful in the sense that their population grew and they were good horticulturists, agriculturists and fisherman. But they were unsuccessful at understanding that unless they managed what they had better, and more fairly, that there was no future.”

Population growth and rampant inequity in a fragile environment eventually led to wrenching societal changes, she said. Internal collapse (as outlined in UCLA professor Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse”) along with colonization and slave-trading in the 1800s caused the population of Rapa Nui to drop to just 111 in the 1870s.

As an anthropologist, Van Tilburg is deeply interested in equity.

“I’m interested in asking why do we keep replicating societies in which people are not equal, because in doing so, we initiate a crisis,” she said. “Inequity is at the heart of our human problems.”

This story originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Photo of Brenda Elaine Stevenson

Brenda Elaine Stevenson receives inaugural 2019 Germany residency at the University of Augsburg

Photo of Brenda Elaine Stevenson

Brenda Elaine Stevenson

During its annual meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Organization of American Historians (OAH) announced that Brenda Elaine Stevenson, University of California, Los Angeles, has been selected to receive the inaugural 2019 residency at the University of Augsburg.

 

2019 Germany Residency Program
Thanks to a generous grant from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the OAH is pleased to continue the Germany Residency Program in American history at the University of Tübingen. Funding from the University of Augsburg will also enable an extension of the program to the University of Augsburg in 2019. The resident scholar at each university will offer a seminar on a U.S. history topic of his or her design.

The residency was announced on April 5 by OAH’s 2019–20 President Joanne Meyerowitz.

 

About the Organization of American Historians
Founded in 1907, the Organization of American Historians (OAH) is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to American history scholarship. With more than 7,500 members from the U.S. and abroad, OAH promotes excellence in the scholarship, teaching, and presentation of American history, encouraging wide discussion of historical questions and equitable treatment of history practitioners. It publishes the quarterly Journal of American History, the leading scholarly publication and journal of record in the field of American history for more than a century. It also publishes The American Historian magazine. Formerly known as the Mississippi Valley Historical Association (MVHA), the association became the OAH in 1965 to reflect a broader scope focusing on national studies of American history. The OAH national headquarters are located in the historic Raintree House on Indiana University’s Bloomington campus.

Space physicist wins Royal Astronomical Society 2019 Gold Medal

Margaret Kivelson, who discovered an ocean inside Jupiter’s moon Europa and a magnetic field generated by neighboring Ganymede, has been awarded the Royal Astronomical Society’s 2019 Gold Medal.

10 Questions Graphic

UCLA Arts launches ‘10 Questions’ event series that invites the public into the classroom

10 Questions Graphic

Clockwise from top right: UCLA’s Kristy Edmunds, Darnell Hunt, Tracy Johnson, Brett Steele, Ananya Roy and Peter Sellars are among the 40 scholars who will participate.

 

Giving community members a special opportunity to experience the conversations that drive innovation at the university, this fall the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture will present “10 Questions,” a hybrid academic course and public event series that brings together leading minds from across the university.

Beginning Oct. 2, every Tuesday for 10 weeks UCLA faculty members from disciplines as diverse as dance, medicine, photography, astrophysics, athletics, Chicana and Chicano studies, law, philosophy and religious studies will join UCLA Arts Dean Brett Steele to explore a fundamental question such as: What is space? What is failure? What is freedom?

A new platform for UCLA Arts, this initiative seeks to stimulate dialogue and exchange, and cultivate a greater understanding of the profoundly interdisciplinary nature of knowledge production in the 21st century.

Faculty participants include fine art photographer Catherine Opie; sociologist and co-author of the Hollywood Diversity Report Darnell Hunt, who serves as dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College; astronomer and MacArthur fellow Andrea Ghez; labor and immigration expert Abel Valenzuela; artist, curator and Executive and Artistic Director of CAP UCLA, Kristy Edmunds; neuroscientist and dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Dr. Kelsey Martin; theater director and MacArthur fellow Peter Sellars; artist Andrea Fraser; psychological anthropologist and dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Marcelo Suárez-Orozco; architect Greg Lynn; UCLA gymnastics head coach Valorie Kondos Field; director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Ananya Roy; and Shakespeare scholar and poet Robert Watson.

“L.A. is the creative capital of the world — and California its fifth largest economy: a vibrant, productive center for the arts, architecture and culture; scientific, technological and economic innovation; urban design; social and political action; environmental conservation; and more,” Steele said. “UCLA is the place where the leading minds in all of these areas come together to experiment, forge new ideas, push the boundaries and invent the future. I find that the most innovative ideas begin with truly fundamental questions. Too often, we get stuck in our own particular concerns or disciplines. ‘10 Questions’ is an opportunity for us, as a university, to re-engage and re-imagine big questions and possible answers through conversations across diverse, multidisciplinary perspectives. What better time than now to pose these questions? What better group than the brilliant minds from across UCLA to tackle them?”

“10 Questions” debuts an innovative program format for UCLA Arts. Both an upper-level undergraduate course and a public event series, it is the first course of its kind at the school that invites the public into the lecture hall to experience firsthand exciting, interdisciplinary conversation among some of UCLA’s most esteemed faculty. Each Tuesday evening from Oct. 2 through Dec. 4, the public will join UCLA students in class for an intimate panel discussion featuring two faculty from the School of the Arts and Architecture, and two from across the university.

To further the program’s goal of helping bring the creativity and research energy of UCLA to the public, all of the lectures will be recorded for public distribution and made available on YouTube.

The course, conceived and developed by Victoria Marks, associate dean of academic affairs, with Anne Marie Burke, executive director of communications and public relations for the school, places the arts at the center of interdisciplinary scholarly discourse.

“The arts have a unique and profound ability to communicate, bring people together, and, ultimately, to transform society,” Marks said. “Now more than ever, we are facing fundamental questions and challenges, and now more than ever we need an energetic exchange of ideas to seed innovation and progress. ‘10 Questions’ puts the arts at the center of this exchange — as they should be. We designed this program to build vital cross-university conversation as we work toward understanding the unique perspectives each discipline brings to the larger equation of knowledge. It is my hope that these dialogues will better prepare us as a learning community — and as a society — for a richer and more substantial appreciation of what our different fields bring to the question of human understanding.”

Details:

  • Tuesdays, Oct. 2 through Dec. 4 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
  • UCLA campus, Glorya Kaufman Hall theater (room 200)
  • Free and open to the public (RSVP Required)
  • Pay by space parking available on campus adjacent to Kaufman Hall (Structure 4)

Oct. 2: What is space?
Dana Cuff, urbanist and architectural theorist; Andrea Ghez, astronomer; Rodrigo Valenzuela, artist; Paul Weiss, nanoscientist

Oct. 9: What is time?
Rebeca Méndez, designer and media artist; James Newton, composer, flutist, conductor; Asma Sayeed, scholar of Islamic studies; Scott Waugh, UCLA executive vice chancellor and provost

Oct. 16: What is beauty?
J.Ed Araiza, writer, director, performer; Paul Barber, evolutionary and conservation geneticist; Marla Berns, scholar and curator of African Arts and Shirley and Ralph Shapiro Director of the Fowler Museum at UCLA; Kathleen McHugh, feminist media theorist and critic

Oct. 23: What is freedom?
Andrea Fraser, artist; Lauren McCarthy, media artist; Ananya Roy, social justice scholar; Seana Shiffrin, moral and political philosophy expert

Oct. 30: What is memory?
Darnell Hunt, sociologist; Kelsey Martin, neuroscientist; Polly Nooter Roberts, scholar and curator of African arts; Peter Sellars, theater director

Nov. 6: What is a body?
Susan Foster, choreographer and scholar; Jennifer Jay, environmental engineer; Tracy Johnson, molecular, cellular and developmental biologist; Greg Lynn, architect

Nov. 13: What is failure?
David Gere, arts activist; Valorie Kondos Field, head coach, UCLA gymnastics; Lorrie Frasure-Yokley, scholar of racial and ethnic politics; Janet O’Shea, author and martial artist

Nov. 20: What is work?
Willem Henri Lucas, designer; Catherine Opie, artist; Alfred Osborne, global economy and entrepreneurship expert; Abel Valenzuela, labor and immigration expert

Nov. 27: What is knowledge?
Kristy Edmunds, artist, curator, and executive and artistic director of CAP UCLA; Victoria Marks, choreographer; Todd Presner, digital humanist and cultural critic; Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, psychological anthropologist

Dec. 4: What is a university?
Bryonn Bain, performing artist and scholar; Jerry Kang, legal scholar and UCLA vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion; David Schaberg, scholar of comparative literature; Robert Watson, Shakespeare scholar and poet

For more information, please visit https://arts.ucla.edu/10questions

Rachelle Crosbie-Watson in her lab at UCLA.

Curing a deadly childhood disease, sharing her love of science, and a sleek ’68 Corvette drive this biochemist

Rachelle Crosbie-Watson in her lab at UCLA.

Rachelle Crosbie-Watson in her lab at UCLA.

 

Spend a brief amount of time with biochemist Rachelle Crosbie-Watson and you’ll quickly realize that “drive” is one of her favorite words.

With equal enthusiasm, she’ll describe studying “the small molecules that drive life,” and her 1968 convertible Corvette being “a blast to drive.”

The symmetry is hard to miss: Crosbie-Watson drives a classic muscle car to UCLA, where she studies the biochemical reactions that drive muscle cell functions. Her lab is hotly pursuing new drugs that one day may halt the progression of a deadly childhood muscle-wasting disease, allowing kids with the disorder to lead normal lives.

The popular digital network, Mashable, recently profiled Crosbie-Watson for its “How She Works” series, which shadows a day in the life of women professionals working in fields related to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

With her fiery pink hair, charismatic personality and affinity for high-speed cars, Crosbie-Watson doesn’t resemble most people’s vision of a biochemist. But her talent for crafting fresh approaches to solving thorny scientific puzzles is exactly what makes her such an ingenious scientist.

“What I love most about my job is the opportunity to be creative,” Crosbie-Watson said. “To solve the biggest problems in the world, we need individuals with different viewpoints to chime in. Working with people who are learning science for the first time — coupled with the thrill of discovery — makes for a really exciting recipe.”

Crosbie-Watson wears a lot of hats. Starting July 1, she will chair the integrative biology and physiology department in the UCLA College. She is also a professor of neurology in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and the education liaison for the Center for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at UCLA.

In a sunny space in the Terasaki Life Sciences Building, Crosbie-Watson oversees a window-lined laboratory staffed by young researchers. Reflecting her appeal as a mentor and role model, 14 of the 17 are female.

Her team is intent on finding a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a deadly genetic disease that slowly weakens every muscle of the body. Striking 1 in 5,000 boys, the disorder typically reveals itself in frequent falls near age 4, reliance on a wheelchair by age 12, and teenage loss of the ability to move the upper arms. Young men with Duchenne frequently die in their 20s, when their heart and lung muscles stop pumping, leading to organ failure.

“Duchenne is a horrible disease that steals young boys’ childhoods and takes young men in the primes of their lives,” Crosbie-Watson said.

The disorder is caused by a genetic error that blocks the production of dystrophin, a protein that normally protects the membrane around muscle cells as they contract and relax. Left susceptible to damage from daily wear and tear, the unprotected cells eventually begin leaking their contents into the surrounding tissue, progressively weakening the muscle until it stops working.

Her lab’s earlier studies in mice gave Crosbie-Watson an insight into how to halt that process.

“We found that boosting levels of a molecule called sarcospan restored the membrane’s ability to protect muscle cells,” she said. “Sarcospan strengthens the muscle’s capacity to withstand the forces of daily use, diminishing the harm caused by Duchenne.”

Led by graduate student Cynthia Shu, the lab began scanning thousands of potential drugs to identify ones able to elevate cellular levels of sarcospan. Three years and 200,000 candidates later, the team has identified a handful of promising contenders for preclinical testing.

Crosbie-Watson applies the same imaginative approach she follows in research to her teaching. To educate the next generation of scientists about Duchenne, she created a virtual-learning course that invites Duchenne patients to describe what it’s like to live with the condition.

Open to undergraduate students enrolled at any University of California campus, the online course vividly illustrates the human toll and financial cost of the disease on patients and their families. Crosbie-Watson is currently developing a graduate program that explores muscle cell biology with an emphasis on translational research.

In recognition of her contributions to campus-wide education, Crosbie-Watson earned the 2013 UCLA Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award. This year she received the UCLA Life Sciences Faculty Excellence Award for education innovation.

“Getting other people excited about science energizes me,” Crosbie-Watson said. “I love teaching young researchers how to put things in context and keep their eyes on the big prize.

“Science is something you can do for a really long time,” she added. “Asking the next question never ends, it drives you forward. The chase is the motivation; that’s what makes research so addictive.”

UCLA receives $25 million gift to support humanities division and philosophy department

Students studying in Powell library

The gift will help the humanities division and philosophy department recruit and retain top faculty, and attract the most outstanding graduate students.

 

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.