Ayala Donates Millions to Preserve School of Biological Sciences

Xiao Dai/New University

On Oct. 18, ecology and evolutionary biology professor Francisco Ayala announced a $10 million gift to the school of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. Ayala will donate $1 million every year for the next 10 years as a way to give back to the University which has provided him his livelihood. This will be the largest donation any faculty member has ever contributed to the institution.

“I feel very grateful to the University and to the School of Biological Sciences,” Ayala said, “[…] I came here as a student at Colombia University in New York with no intention of staying in the United States and then I was persuaded to stay. My career has been made in this country and much of it at this university which has provided me with facilities and research and wonderful students and a wonderful environment.”

Ayala, who often gives donations to local centers for the performing arts and to the National Academy of the Sciences, started talks with Chancellor Drake last March concerning the magnitude and distribution of the donation. Upon his second meeting with the Chancellor, a document was already finalized distributing the amount among various school programs.

“The general ideas were already there, and by the second meeting they had already formalized them in a document,” Ayala said. “I hadn’t expected them to do this so quickly!”

The gift will be channeled into several endowed funds through the School of Biological Sciences, leading to the creation of four new research endowed chairs for faculty and a Dean’s endowed chair for Dean Al Bennet and his successors. In addition, Dr. Ayala will double the $1.6 million gift he made last year towards scholarships and fellowships for students. After his donation last year to UC Irvine the Science Library was renamed in his honor.

“There will be a named Dean’s chair so the Dean gets some money for special projects and at least four other endowed chairs for faculty. Last year I was given the Templeton prize, which is £1 million pounds, or $1.6 million dollars, and I gave it all to the school for fellowships for students so now I want to double that amount. And there will be some other monies for environmental issues and related to activities in evolution and biology.”

Professor Ayala, 77 years old and happily married. has become very wealthy in recent years due to both the successes of his vineyards and grants from science endowments.

“When they gave me the Templeton Prize I thought how to use it and I considered three useful things: “gambling, liquor or women,” Ayala joked. “It’s too much money to waste on gambling or liquor so my wife thought women was the way to go; she likes expensive jewelry but again I thought spending it in that way was not so useful. So of course, I gave it to students.”

Ayala says that he is happy that UCI administration has decided the distribution of his $10 million dollar gift.

“I was very pleased. Obviously I wanted that the money be used in ways I thought were reasonable but I said I didn’t want to have any control over the faculty or which students were recruited because I had other things to worry about except how to use the University’s money. It’s too much work. Some people when they have that kind of money set up foundations because they want to control the use of funds but I definitely don’t want to do anything of the kind. I have confidence in the University, if I didn’t things would be very different.”

According to Dr. Ayala, one reason he chose to give at this time was because of the drastic cuts to the budget of the University.

“Higher education and science are some of the great pillars of our society. Science contributes greatly to the advance of humankind and technology, which comes from science, is very fundamental in explaining human society and mankind’s development. Education in general is very fundamental for people to have a satisfactory life. Cuts mean less money which means fewer programs, fewer students, and fewer faculty.”

One person who was very grateful to receive the gift was Chris Redo, the Senior Executive Director for Development for UCI. As the head of the $1 Billion “Shaping the Future” campaign, Redo supervises all planned and charitable giving at UCI and his department helped distribute the funds of the Ayala gift.

This year state contribution to the UCI operating budget dropped from 14 to 11 percent and given the great need of the University for charitable giving, the distribution of this gift is very significant. Though the entire gift is going to the School of Biological Sciences, it is unlikely that undergraduate students not involved in research will see the direct applications of the donation.

“Those kinds of funds are vital to a research institution like ours because graduate students are the meat and potatoes of what makes research go. That’s why Dr. Ayala’s gift is so critical in the School of Biological Sciences because now with all these endowed chairs professors who receive those endowments are going to be able to do that much better and better work annually. The Dean’s chair, which is $2 million, I don’t know what he’s plans to use his endowment for but typically a dean will use it to provide research dollars, special projects that come up, things that advance the School of Biological Sciences. It gives them the flexibility to put resources into opportunities that will emerge over the course of the year.”

Endowed gifts like Ayala’s $10 million contribution are disbursed incrementally in annual segments. Research chairs in the School of Biological Sciences will receive a small percentage of the gift annually as a salary for their own projects.

“With all endowments where money is invested, the concept is that you protect the corpus (the original amount) from volatility. Volatility of the marker, volatility of inflation. The annual distribution rate is set by the foundation trustees at roughly 4.5 percent. Through good times and bad there’s a constant distribution to the recipient of that chair. When a million dollars is invested, 4.5 percent or four and a quarter percent you receive a year to use on graduate students, research materials, whatever you need. So that’s about $42,500 a year.”

Redo says that most endowed chairs are in UCI’s School of Medicine. Most faculty do not donate to the University, but a select few contribute to student scholarships and fellowships.

“Faculty do not often give gifts of this magnitude to the University but there are faculty who are members of the Chancellor’s Club, who already have included us in their estate plans, or who donate out of the IRA. It’s not uncommon for faculty to give gifts to the school where they work.”

As an internationally-famous biologist, Francisco Ayala has had a significant impact on the international scientific community and his discourses on the dangers of Intelligent Design have re-contextualized how humans understand their world. His gift to UCI will stand in perpetuity as reinforcing the values of UCI administrators in recognition of his time and work here.

“We have more members in this field of the National Academy of Sciences here than anywhere else in the world, and the Academy selected its president from here, this campus.” He says, “It’s the same as at my vineyard, I always select my collaborators very carefully and I treat them very well.”