September 29, 2008
UC DAVIS MARKS CENTENNIAL WITH 100 PLUS ENDOWED CHAIRS, PROFESSORSHIPS
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A wildlife biologist and his students strap on hip waders and walk into the muck of a wetland in California's Central Valley. There, he directs their eyes to the large skies of North America's most important flyway for migrating birds.
A constitutional scholar explains the nation's most important document to aspiring lawyers as well as to legislative committees and staff, church and civic groups, and professional conferences across the country.
As different as these University of California, Davis, professors are, they share a special distinction: They hold prestigious chairs and professorships endowed by donors to provide continuing support for their research, teaching and public service. And as UC Davis celebrates its centennial this year, the university has passed another milestone: it now boasts more than 100 such chairs and professorships -- a testament to its academic stature and its important contributions to society.
"Our friends who endow chairs and professorships make gifts that keep on giving," said UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef. "They are advancing knowledge, preparing students to contribute to society, and making a difference in the lives of the people of California and beyond, not just now but forever."
The first 30 years
It was about 30 years ago that the first endowed chair was established at UC Davis. In 1977, the descendants of two California pioneers, Benjamin Porter and William Sesnon, gave the campus a ranch in Nevada that provided the funding for the Sesnon Chair in Animal Science.
Since then, individual donors, businesses, foundations and others have matched their passion and purpose with UC Davis' academic aspirations to establish endowed chairs and professorships in fields ranging from schizophrenia research to technology management and from energy efficiency to orchestral conducting. Interest earned on the investment of the endowed gifts provides an ongoing source of funding for the chair holder's professional activities, including support for research, equipment and specialized materials, student support and academic travel.
Today, newly endowed chairs require a gift of $1 million or more, depending on the unit and purpose of the chair. New professorships require at least $500,000. While there is not a combined figure for all endowed chairs and professorships, their funds are among about $650 million in the UC Davis endowment.
The 'next generation'
Shaun Oldenburger is on the lookout for the health of waterfowl and their habitat in California. A state wildlife biologist, he is one of about 22 UC Davis students who received financial support through the Dennis G. Raveling Endowed Professorship in Waterfowl Biology and are now waterfowl, wetland and wildlife biologists in government agencies, conservation groups and universities across the country.
When internationally recognized waterfowl teacher and researcher Dennis Raveling died in 1991, UC Davis' teaching and leadership in the field could have been threatened.
But Peter Stent, a rancher and avid outdoorsman from Woodside, Calif., and his wife, Nora, provided a key gift that led donations from many other friends of California waterfowl to establish the professorship. Later, the California Department of Fish and Game used receipts from the sale of duck hunting stamps as matching funds for even more donations.
UC Davis hired John Eadie to the professorship in 1995, and he began teaching waterfowl ecology and management in 1996. Stent said endowing a professorship leverages a lot of resources. "You don't just get one professor," he said. "You get all his students who end up going into the field."
Like other endowed chairs and professorships, the Raveling Chair supports research that contributes to knowledge and addresses real-world problems.
Eadie and his students focus on protecting and improving the wetland and agricultural habitats of the Central Valley that in winter support 3 million to 4 million waterfowl -- the largest single concentration in North America. California has lost more than 90 percent of its wetlands, Eadie said, and what remains continues to be threatened by conversion to agriculture, urban expansion and flood control projects.
He and his students receive grants from government agencies and leading wildlife organizations. Their publications and presentations have a wide reach, and the leadership of the program ranges from advising a community wetland project to hosting the North American Duck Symposium.
"This is a giant step from the pure research to the applied research," Stent said. "That is the mission of the land grant university, is it not?"
Oldenburger, who received about $18,000 through the professorship, graduated in March with a master's degree in avian sciences and now works for the waterfowl program of the California Department of Fish and Game.
"The real product of this isn't just the research," Eadie said. "It's the next generation."
A living legacy
UC Davis alumni Charles and Charlotte Bird of San Diego gave $350,000 to raise the stature of the law school and promote the constitutional values they hold dear. The law firm partner and his wife, Charlotte, a studio artist who graduated from UC Davis in 1969, established the Boochever and Bird Chair for the Study and Teaching of Freedom and Equality.
It honors Charles Bird's late parents and Judge Robert Boochever of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Charles Bird clerked for Boochever when he was a justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.
The Boochever and Bird Chair "feels to both of us very connected to what we think a public university's law school ought to be able to continue to do," said Charles Bird, who earned a bachelor's degree and then graduated from the law school in 1973. "It's about constitutional law and rights of all people without regard to economics. The hope was that it would attract and retain outstanding faculty in that kind of pursuit."
Indeed, the new chair helped bring to the law school Cruz Reynoso, a former associate justice of the California Supreme Court and a leading advocate for civil and human rights. He taught at UC Davis from 2001 until his retirement in 2007. Now holding the chair is Professor Alan Brownstein, a nationally recognized constitutional law scholar who has taught at the law school for 27 years.
"People really want to understand what the First Amendment means and how it applies to the issues they hear about -- a lot of these are hot-button issues," said Brownstein, who specializes in church-state issues and freedom of speech. "So we should go out and talk to people about how the Constitution works and what rights we have."
Brownstein uses the chair funds to support his research and academic speaking engagements and to host guest speakers and workshops at the law school. Earlier this year, he was faculty adviser to a symposium on free speech rights in public schools. And he annually presents a review of the decisions of the U.S Supreme Court to the Sacramento Federal Bar Association.
The professor frequently publishes articles in prestigious law journals, and recently he and a co-author completed a manuscript that will help professors who teach domestic law introduce their students to international human rights law and comparative constitutional law.
Watching their donation give life to important American values and human rights, the Birds said they are pleased. "It's an investment.
It's not an investment that returns money," Charles Bird said. "It's something much more important about projecting values into the future."
"Each gift is an inspirational story," Vanderhoef said. "I wish we could tell each one because, in fact, all of our donors inspire us."
Among other endowed chairs and professorships at UC Davis:
* The Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians of the Capay Valley gave $350,000 to establish the Rumsey Rancheria Endowed Chair in California Indian Studies. Held by linguist and Professor Martha Macri, it supports her efforts to help preserve and revitalize the languages of Native Americans.
"We are grateful to have a neighbor like UC Davis to partner with us on this restoration," Tribal Council Chair Marshall McKay said recently at UC Davis' convocation. "The first university in the nation to have a Department of Native American Studies, UC Davis has a commitment to advancing scholarly knowledge while also attending to the needs of Native communities."
The Rumsey Indian Rancheria's Community Fund gave $1 million for diabetes research and community health outreach. "When the Yocha-De-He Nation funded the Rumsey Endowed Chair in Pediatric Endocrinology at UC Davis," McKay said, "we saw it as an important step toward preventing diabetes in the group who holds our future:
* Dolly and David Fiddyment of Roseville gave $1.09 million to establish what is the first endowed chair for the School of Education and one of only a handful of academic chairs nationwide that are focused on teacher education. They wanted to help attract a nationally recognized scholar to lead the teacher education program and provide California with well-prepared teachers.
* The planned gift estate of Stanley and Barbara Fingerut will establish the Stanley Allan Fingerut and Barbara Esquibel Fingerut Endowed Chair in Cancer Research. The chair will provide support for cancer research, including multiple myeloma, which claimed Stanley Fingerut's life in 2001.
"UC Davis provided great medical care," said Barbara Fingerut. "I feel you should always give back to the community that gave to you.
My loyalty belongs to the university."
For a listing of new chairs and professorships, please visit the Web version of this story at
* Julia Ann Easley, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-8248, firstname.lastname@example.org
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