UCLA will rename its renowned medical center after Ronald Reagan as soon as friends of the former president fulfill a pledge to donate $150 million to help rebuild the hospital, which was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, officials announced Wednesday.
Reagan supporters have already raised $80 million for the eight-story building, designed by celebrated architect I.M. Pei, and for a separate Reagan library foundation. The hospital, scheduled to be completed in 2004, is under construction at the entrance to the Westwood campus.
Once fully in hand, the $150 million gift from Reagan backers will be the largest cash donation to UCLA.
“It’s an extraordinary gift,” said UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale, who was joined by Reagan’s wife, Nancy. “It comes from people who have great fondness and respect for Ronald Reagan and great fondness and respect for UCLA.”
The announcement ignited immediate criticism from some UC employees troubled by what they considered Reagan’s antagonistic policies toward the university and the health care system.
“I find it offensive,” said E. Richard Brown, director of the Center for Health Policy Research at UCLA.
Besides challenging academic freedom when he was governor, Brown said, “as president, he attacked the federal funding in medical care for the most vulnerable patients, the very elderly and the poor.”
Other protesters circulated a flier, which read, “This hospital must remain nonpartisan. . . . Don’t let this happen. It’s like naming the Federal Reserve after Herbert Hoover.”
Carnesale said politics is not an issue.
Instead, he said, UCLA is following a rich tradition of naming schools and hospitals after former U.S. presidents, such as Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and the University of Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston.
“If we weren’t proud to name it after Ronald Reagan, we wouldn’t do so,” Carnesale said. “People can agree or disagree with specific policies, but he is perceived by most as being a very effective public servant. This man had a distinguished career.”
Affixing Reagan’s name to the building is the latest UCLA “naming opportunity"--a fund-raising technique used with increasing frequency by universities to attract and reward generous donors.
It is also the most recent effort to immortalize the 40th President, who has Alzheimer’s disease and did not go to UCLA Wednesday. Already, Reagan’s name graces a freeway, a turnpike, an airport and a federal building.
“Although Ronnie couldn’t be here today,” Nancy Reagan told supporters, “I hope you all know how grateful we both are. . . . He would be so proud and so pleased to have this fabulous medical center named after him.”
The $150 million will go a long way toward helping UCLA rebuild its hospital as part of a $1.3-billion renovation of its medical campus, the most costly building project in UC history.
The hospital alone will cost about $700 million to build and equip. Because it was damaged in the earthquake, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is providing $432 million toward reconstruction. The state is kicking in $44 million.
With the pledge from Reagan’s friends, UCLA is getting very close to its goal, said Dr. Gerald S. Levey, provost for medical sciences.
Levey estimates that the campus needs another $250 million to complete the entire project, which includes three major medical research buildings that will focus on everything from AIDS research to advancing orthopedic treatment.
Other naming opportunities remain in abundance. For $250 million, a donor’s name can be attached to the UCLA School of Medicine. The Trauma & Emergency Department at the medical center will go for $10 million, the meditation room/chapel for $1 million.
The idea of putting Reagan’s name on the medical center started with one of UCLA’s professional fund-raisers.
Levey said he was “sensitive” to potential criticism, given Reagan’s history with the university, so he floated the concept to Carnesale, UC President Richard C. Atkinson and Gov. Gray Davis. All three embraced the idea enthusiastically, he said.
Then he and Hollywood power broker Michael Ovitz, a member of the medical center’s executive board, approached A. Jerrold Perenchio, a big Republican contributor and a friend and neighbor of the Reagans.
Perenchio took the idea across the street to Nancy Reagan, Ovitz said. “Nancy liked the idea, but wanted to make sure they didn’t stop raising money for the Reagan foundation,” Ovitz said
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation has raised about $20 million for educational programs at the library near Simi Valley, said foundation Chairman Frederick J. Ryan. The foundation hopes to raise another $30 million and jumped at the chance “to launch this exciting new partnership with UCLA.”
The result was an overall $180-million fund-raising campaign, with $150 million going to UCLA and $30 million for the library. The money is being split proportionally as it arrives.
Perenchio, head of the Spanish-language television network Univision, kick-started the donation drive with a multimillion-dollar contribution. University officials declined to disclose the exact amount. So did Perenchio, whom Forbes Magazine ranks as one the richest Americans, with an estimated net worth of $2.7 billion.
Reagan, 89, tangled with the University of California before he was elected governor in 1966. He campaigned on a pledge to clean up Berkeley, which he called “a hotbed of communism and homosexuality.”
Once in office he orchestrated the firing of the UC’s beloved President Clark Kerr, who refused to use force to quell student unrest on campus.
He later challenged the faculty’s academic freedom with an effort to bar Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver from being a guest lecturer.
Asked to comment on UCLA’s announcement, Kerr said, “I’m a little surprised.”
“I didn’t know Reagan was interested in UCLA’s medical center,” Kerr said. “But someone who comes in with a lot of money usually has a lot of influence.”
Dr. Philip Lee, former chancellor of UC San Francisco, said he was “saddened” by the news of Reagan’s name going on the UCLA medical center, routinely ranked as one of the nation’s 10 best.
Lee, who served as an assistant health secretary for two Democratic presidents, said health care leaders were disappointed by Reagan’s preoccupation with military spending over providing medical care for the poor. Others were deeply frustrated when he failed to provide research money at the outset of the AIDS epidemic.
“I don’t think the university should accept the gift” for the hospital, he said. “I wouldn’t have a problem if they named a football field after him.”
Times health writer Julie Marquis contributed to this story.