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Bren to Give UCI $1 Million More for Fellows Program

Times Staff Writer

Irvine Co. Chairman Donald L.Bren will donate $1 million to a UC Irvine endowment bearing his name during a press conference today, and distinguished evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala will be named director of the Bren Fellows Program and its first fellow.

“I will continue my research and be an active director,” said Ayala, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, in confirming his new position Monday.

He declined further comment.

Created With Bren Gift

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The Bren Fellows program was created last year with a $1.5-million gift from Bren, the multimillionaire executive of the largest landholding entity in the county.

A key to the endowment was an agreement with the Irvine Co. that removed a deed restriction that had prevented UCI from commercially developing campus property since 1960, when the company sold the land to UCI.

Plans for a 135-acre, high-tech research park on the property were announced in May; under terms of the agreement, all lease revenues will be used for more fellowships and to pay for research and teaching.

Bren’s latest gift will endow a second fellowship and be used to attract a top scholar to UCI, sources said.

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Bren, who said last year that his earlier endowment would “place UCI in a position of tremendous and virtually unparalleled academic strength,” could not be reached for comment Monday.

UCI Chancellor Jack W. Peltason, who will participate in the announcement today, would not comment Monday on the planned gift.

Peltason has described the planned research park as an important element of the university’s future as “a knowledge center.” UCI, which will gain up to 2 million square feet of commercial space in the research park areas, expects to lure biomedical companies that would conduct research in partnership with scientists from UCI’s College of Medicine.

The research park, in effect, will place UCI in competition with the Irvine Co. for high-rent industrial tenants. The development firm owns much of the property surrounding UCI, including some of the most commercially valuable land in the county.

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Ayala, a former Roman Catholic priest who left the church to study genetics, has the contacts and credentials to recruit leading scientists and scholars in his new position.

Since he was lured from UC Davis in 1987, Ayala has researched the genetic causes of disease while aiding in UCI fund-raising. At a February meeting of the UCI Foundation Board of Overseers, composed of some of the university’s most generous patrons, Ayala spoke briefly about his work and the need for continued research money.

Ayala, 56, also organized the National Academy of Science’s first West Coast symposium in May, 1988, joining a lofty program of lecturers on biological research and human values.

He has often battled creationists in his 24-year academic career and was a major witness in a 1982 trial that resulted in the overturning of an Arkansas law requiring public school instructors to give equal time to the teaching of creationism and evolution.

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