$2 million gift to create endowed chair in the study of religion

Published: December 7, 2023
Sun setting over mountaintopsPhoto: iStock.com/vovik_mar

Lucy Berbeo | December 6

With a gift of $2 million from an anonymous donor, UCLA plans to establish the Robert E. Archer Chair in the Study of Religion, the first endowed chair of its kind for the campus.

Pending the approval of the UCLA Academic Senate, the permanent appointment chair will support a distinguished faculty member in UCLA’s interdepartmental degree program in the study of religion, founded a half-century ago within the Division of Humanities.

“We are profoundly grateful to our anonymous donor for this generous and forward-thinking gift, which will advance the growth and continued impact of a vital UCLA program,” said Alexandra Minna Stern, dean of humanities. “Supporting the study of religion is more important than ever given the prominent role of faith and religious differences today and across time.”

The donor, a longtime friend and supporter of UCLA, named the chair in honor of retired educator Robert E. Archer, a 1959 UCLA graduate who inspired the donor’s own learning. As an undergraduate at UCLA in the 1950s, Archer played basketball for John Wooden, earned a bachelor’s degree in English and then went on to head the English department at Harvard-Westlake, a preparatory school in Los Angeles, for nearly three decades.

“Bob Archer was one of my favorite high school teachers,” the donor said. “He taught my junior English class as well as classes in Shakespeare, logic and ethics. I have stayed in touch with him over the decades, and he has had a profound impact on my intellectual development. I am delighted that Bob has allowed me to name the chair in his honor.”

Archer, who has volunteered at the Inner City Education Foundation during his retirement, shared his surprise as well as gratitude to the donor and UCLA.

Courtesy of Harvard-Westlake
Robert E. Archer

“I am pleased that UCLA would so honor a high school English teacher,” Archer said. “I am proud to call UCLA my ‘alma mater,’ a name that refers to a place of learning and personal growth, for that is what UCLA was for me. My UCLA professors introduced me to the world of ideas and art through examples of the first-rate in thought and expression. My basketball coach, John Wooden, instilled in me the importance of self-discipline, doing one’s best and never quitting.

“At UCLA I met many and various intelligent and stimulating classmates, some of whom have remained friends over the years. One of those students, Georgine Johnson, a math major and fellow UCLA grad, is my wife of 63 years. So the fact that UCLA is my alma mater resides at the core of my identity, my sense of who I am,” Archer concluded. “I hope this chair stimulates thought about offering courses in religion as part of the general education curriculum for first- and second-year undergraduates.”

The donor has supported initiatives in the humanities as well as the arts across UCLA and has audited courses in the division of humanities.

“I have long valued the power and importance of a liberal arts education, the aims of which are to enable students to think critically, to help them transcend local loyalties and to give them the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another person or group,” the donor said. “I believe the study of religion is perfectly suited to achieving these aims: it not only strengthens our appreciation of diversity, but also points to the many things we hold in common.”

Carol Bakhos, professor in the UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, has served since 2012 as UCLA Study of Religion’s program chair and as director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Religion, which oversees the program’s major and minor.

“I want to share my utmost gratitude with the donor for this gift to create the first endowed chair in our program’s history,” Bakhos said. “It’s an act of generosity that is truly inspiring to all of us who have committed ourselves to the study of religion at UCLA over the years. Thanks to this donor’s vision, we will always have a highly visible, highly qualified and experienced faculty member working to ensure UCLA is positioned as a leader in religious studies for many years to come.”