Lance Robbins ’72 achieved success in real estate by knowing when to jump at a unique opportunity. So when the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation issued its challenge to UC Berkeley to match major donations for endowed chairs, Robbins leaped at the chance to become the first to donate $1 million to help Boalt fund a new faculty chair in criminal justice.
On September 10, UC Berkeley received the largest private gift in its history, $113 million from the Hewlett Foundation. Of that total, $110 million is a “Hewlett Challenge” grant that will match other private donations to fund endowments for 100 new faculty chairs. Robbins decided to announce his donation during Boalt’s recent alumni weekend festivities, giving the attendees something extra to celebrate.
“As usual for anyone who goes to Boalt, things are never done for a single reason,” says Robbins, who enjoyed his 35th reunion on campus September 29–30. “It was a great chance to leverage $1 million into $2 million with the Hewlett match, and hopefully to inspire fellow alumni to follow suit.”
Robbins is the principal of Urban Smart Growth, a redevelopment company that creates dynamic residential and mixed-use communities by rehabilitating old buildings and transforming urban blight. Based in Los Angeles, Robbins has led major development programs all over the country, with an emphasis on revitalizing historic downtown areas. Inspired by the magnitude of Hewlett’s gift—which will increase the campus endowment for faculty chairs by nearly 50 percent—Robbins supported Boalt in a way that addresses his passion for improving drug policies in America.
“I like to fix things,” says Robbins, who spent 13 years as a volunteer drug counselor while working as a developer. “The more complicated the fix, the more I like it. The United States has the second highest incarceration rate in the world, with 50 percent of federal inmates and 30 percent of state inmates in jail because of drugs. That’s a real statement of failure. My inspiration for this gift was to create a chair at Boalt to deal with drug addiction, which I view as the ultimate repository of social pathology. There is no law school that has a public policy toward this aspect of the criminal justice system. To be the first to make this matching grant makes a statement about Boalt’s commitment to social justice, and it was just too good an opportunity to pass up.”
The Hewlett gift provides UC Berkeley with a major source of endowed funds to retain and support world-class faculty and graduate students. Between 2000 and 2006, almost 70 percent of faculty members who received competing offers opted to remain at Berkeley. That retention rate, however, was achieved mostly through extraordinary efforts and cost-cutting measures that could not continue over time. Although UC Berkeley’s endowment has more than doubled in the past decade, at $2.5 billion it remains small compared to the endowments at Harvard ($29.2 billion), Stanford ($14.1 billion), and MIT ($8.4 billion). The Hewlett gift also helps to fund the recruitment of top graduate students, enabling the university to better compete with substantial fellowship packages offered by private schools.
Meanwhile, Robbins is happy to offer his own incentive for fellow alumni: “I know there’s room for a few more Hewlett gifts at Boalt, and I’ll gladly buy dinner for anyone who matches it.”