Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bill Cosby and Yo-yo Ma have something in common. They have all appeared on the stage at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Over the past 85 years, Royce Hall has been a focal point for culture and intelligent discourse in Southern California. Royce has hosted virtuoso performers from Barbara Streisand and Stevie Wonder to Leonard Bernstein, Placido Domingo, Orson Wells and Tom Hanks. Classical and contemporary music, dance, theatre and important public conversations have entertained, enlightened and stimulated audiences. Venues at other UC campuses and higher education institutions throughout the country also serve a similar function as a community resource showcasing words and performances that make a difference in our lives.
Royce Hall stands out as a venue that not only presents, but nurtures the emerging artists who are part of the evolving cultural landscape.
When we think about our universities, there is a lot more there than just classrooms. Certainly, teaching and nurturing of young minds is the paramount function of higher education, but these institutions provide us with much more. The University of California campuses are giants in the world of research from healthcare breakthroughs to a better understanding of our environment and the dynamics of the world’s economy. As the Royce example shows, they are also vital meeting places where the community can gather to experience the full cultural spectrum and to shop in the marketplace of ideas. Your cable provider may offer 500 channels, but they mostly numb the mind. On the other hand, our universities serve as places in the community where minds are stimulated.
California’s investment in its higher education system has paid countless dividends. Intellectual firepower from our research universities has served to provide the critical mass to nurture and build critical industries from aerospace to information technology and the biosciences. Great universities are found at the center of technological change and growth and the development of vital new industries. Cultural offerings at UCLA and other campuses contribute immeasurably to our quality of life.
Given all this, it is discouraging to see how far the State has pulled back in its commitment to public higher education in recent years. Sure, the State has gone through major fiscal challenges and there are other priorities that must be addressed, but no investment pays greater dividends to Californians than our system of higher education. California’s public higher education system for years was by far the best in the nation, but that is no longer true. As the Governor and the Legislature negotiate a final Budget for 2014-15, they could do a lot of good by finding additional dollars for the University of California and the State University system. And, as public-private partnerships become increasingly important for our university systems, the private sector has a crucial role in providing resources to help assure that arts and cultural activity flourish on our campuses.
Alan M. Schwartz is a Los Angeles based investor and community leader. He serves on the Board of Visitors for UCLA School of Arts and Architecture the Board of Directors of the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA (CAP-UCLA).