A Conversation with Lowell Milken ’73
(As featured in UCLA LAW – The Magazine of UCLA School of Law, Fall 2011)
Before making this gift, you spent three years in conversation with people at the law school, exploring the ways in which your philanthropy could have an impact not only on scholarship but also on policy and practice. What did you learn from these discussions—and what ultimately led you to make the gift?
I was motivated to make this gift for many reasons. Personally, the value of my UCLA Law educational experience has proven its worth in diverse situations and decisions over time. Institutionally, I know firsthand the enormous contribution to public life that this particular law school makes by putting justice, excellence and equal opportunity into the service of creating better lives for people. I wished to give something to UCLA School of Law in return—to find a way to support it that would make a significant difference to the faculty, students and the community at large. I should also add that in making this gift I was greatly influenced by the current financial pressures and constraints impacting our state’s great UC system. If we are to maintain that educational greatness, it is incumbent upon those of us who benefited from our experience within the UC system to help support the outstanding work of these universities.
My discussions with Dean Moran and faculty members convinced me that the creation of an Institute for Business Law and Policy could both significantly expand the outstanding programs already in existence and create new opportunities for faculty members and law students. It became clear to me that this Institute would benefit the faculty by providing greater resources to support business law and policy research, as well as by increasing the visibility and reach of that research. This support is important to retaining and motivating talented faculty members as well as to attracting and recruiting a world-class faculty. Another area of interest is the Institute’s contribution to preparing the next generation of business law scholars by offering fellowships to young practitioners who will gain teaching experience,develop a research agenda and participate in the full range of Institute activities. Students will continue to benefit from an outstanding faculty and have altogether new opportunities as a result of expanded business law and policy curricula and increased access to clinical and transactional courses, seminars and conferences. In a period when law school graduates are having increasing difficulty securing jobs with traditional law firms, the Institute can expand the skills, knowledge and experiences relevant to positions in business, philanthropy and government.
It also matters to me that the Institute will open up new avenues for continued learning, networking and leadership among my fellow alumni.
As you look back on your law school education and experience, what has been its impact on your dual careers in business and philanthropy?
My formation in law school—including my perception of society and how to improve it—had a direct bearing on my decision to focus on philanthropy and, in particular, on education. I experienced firsthand how a rigorous law school education is relevant to a broad range of pursuits. First, it instills sound habits of mind. Second, it teaches how to constructively look for what might be wrong or go wrong in a given situation with the aim, of course, of avoiding such pitfalls. Third, it prepares you to look at what could go right that isn’t going right; to see what could be done differently and much better.
Moreover, because law underpins so much of our social order, having a thorough grasp of it can confer real confidence. It can give you drive and embolden you. Putting this perception, training and determination together—as law school helped me to do—can allow you to transform your vision into reality. Considering the immense challenges facing our nation today, equipping as many people as possible with a sound education and the confidence it confers will equip us to meet the demands and unknowns of the future strategically and with resilience.
Why did you choose to dedicate your philanthropy chiefly to education and innovation?
I’ve pursued the public service of education for a number of reasons. To begin with, I’ve always enjoyed learning, always found it stimulating. I have my parents to thank for that, of course. And I have the Los Angeles Unified School District to thank for the many outstanding teachers who nurtured that eagerness. I had a similar experience with outstanding educators at UC Berkeley and again here at UCLA School of Law.
It also happened that I was a beneficiary of a K-12 public education system in an era when it was still a source of national pride, when public education was still rigorous and attuned to Americans’ needs and potential. Sadly, this is not the condition of K-12 education today. It is not rigorous, and it is not attuned. Consider that right here in LA, for every student who graduates, there is one who drops out; that nationally half of all black and Hispanic 4th graders cannot read; that the longer U.S. students are in school the poorer their comparative performance is—in math, science, history and writing. These facts alone tell us that we have a systemic failure in public K-12 education. The resulting human toll is undemocratic, unnecessary and profoundly unjust. And it is also threatening the future quality of life for many of our citizens as many other countries have surpassed us in the quality of their K-12 education systems.
This is why I have devoted much of my time, thought and resources to improving kindergarten through 12th-grade education. If your aim is to enrich people’s lives, then it is essential to equip young people with the skills, knowledge and experiences that will allow them to take advantage of life’s opportunities. Because that is my aim, I have devoted much of the past three decades to creating a comprehensive, research-based education structure for reforming—and I do mean re-forming—K-12 public education. It is known as TAP™: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement (www.tapsystem.org). I am deeply gratified that the efficacy of TAP is proven, measurable and actively improving educator effectiveness and student outcomes for tens of thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of predominantly high-need students in 13 states. TAP also continues to grow exponentially. Yes, we are making progress, but our nation has a long way to go!
You have been a global leader in advancing K-12 education reform. As you think about promoting innovation in graduate and professional education, what are the greatest challenges you see for the Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy?
The challenges for graduate and professional education reflect conditions in the world as a whole. The pace of change creates enormous challenges to transmitting skills and knowledge. For example, it is estimated that with new technical information doubling every two years, students who start a four-year technical degree will find that half of what they learned in their first year will be outdated by their third year of study. While the study of law may not involve equivalent obsolescence, it does require a course of study that is precisely relevant, substantive, interdisciplinary and strategic. If students are to develop the requisite skills, knowledge and experience, then the administration and faculty must have the resources to provide powerful opportunities for both academic studies and practical experiences.
As I mentioned earlier, these experiences are key to ensuring that students are prepared not only for the practice of law but also to assume leadership roles in business, government and philanthropy.
What is the role of philanthropy in transforming institutions like UCLA?
Sound partnerships between education and philanthropy—as well as with government and business—are vital to the university’s potential to meet complex 21st-century challenges. Philanthropy plays an obvious and critical role in providing resources to support university programs and offer greater access through scholarships. Individuals and organizations can also target specific needs through their giving. More than two decades ago, for example, I recognized a need for some of the newly admitted students to receive focused mentoring prior to the start of their law school training. Together with the dean and law school faculty members, we established the UCLA Law Summer School Tutorial Program, which ran for several years and was then incorporated into the first-year studies.
Today, I look forward to working with UCLA and partners to create a world-class Institute for Business Law and Policy, and, yes, I am fortunate to have the capacity to do so. But what is important is for each of us to contribute to the best of our abilities, whether by volunteering time, money, ideas or some combination of resources.
Why should other leaders in business and law invest in universities?
In an age of global competition, overnight obsolescence and ever-increasing societal challenges, there is simply no substitute for a highly educated population. Education develops the capacity to lead and prepares each generation to defend, question, understand and participate in our democratic traditions. Education awakens us to our shared national narrative and, particularly in the setting of the university, to the lessons of history. We live in an age when time spent in contemplation is vastly reduced and when the pace of change, both good and bad, can, it seems, overtake our humanity. Great universities offer the space and the freedom to pursue new strategies to solve pressing problems and anticipate future challenges.
The support of leaders in the business and legal communities is essential to ensuring opportunities and hope for future generations.
In your view, why is UCLA Law’s location in Los Angeles critical to its identity and impact as an institution? What about its geography makes it an ideal place to launch the Lowell Milken Institute?
A hallmark of our great city is the diversity of our population. LA’s confluence of cultures opens our eyes to new ways of doing things. It has contributed, for example, to our status as a leading innovator of software content, web development and new media that is transforming global communications. As the entertainment and international trade capital of the United States, the Los Angeles region is also the strategic gateway to the most dynamic growth area in the world today and for the foreseeable future—Asia. This location and environment give the Institute for Business Law and Policy an international vantage point and offer a wealth of opportunities for UCLA Law students, faculty members and alumni who participate. And let’s not forget the weather! Even the most dedicated law student needs outdoor recreation now and then. It doesn’t get better than right here.