Orange County Business Journal

UCI Gets $10M Gift From Faculty Member

Jerry Sullivan Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A University of California, Irvine, professor who is an ordained Roman Catholic priest and has worked to establish common ground between science and religion in the debate over evolution donated $10 million to the School of Biological Sciences there.

Francisco J. Ayala will fund the gift—the largest by a faculty member in UCI’s 46-year history—from a vineyard he has owned for decades.

“When you can do good things, you should do them,” said Ayala, a native of Spain, in a statement. “This is a way of showing my gratitude to this university, which has been so good to me, where I have been able to do my research and teach wonderful students, and where I have been honored in so many ways. In a larger context, it’s a way of expressing my gratitude to this country. I came to the United States as a student, with no intention to stay, and yet here I am.”

Ayala serves as the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, a position endowed by the chairman of Newport Beach-based developer Irvine Company. The 77-year-old was ordained as a priest in the Dominican Order, and started his scientific career by teaching himself about genetics.

Ayala went on to formal academic training, and has since gained international prominence as a molecular biologist whose work has advanced research into cures for malaria and other diseases. He is a vocal opponent of “intelligent design” and those who deny the concept of human evolution. Among his honors are the National Medal of Science and the Templeton Prize.

Ayala donated $1.5 million when he received with the Templeton Prize to fund the work of graduate students in biological sciences.

Ayala is widely published, with hundreds of academic articles and 40 books to his credit. A recent book is titled “Am I a Monkey?” and looks at evolution from scientific and religious perspectives.

Ayala began buying land in Central California in the 1980s. He developed vineyards and now supplies grapes to the state’s major winemakers.

“Words fail to express our gratitude to Professor Ayala for his generosity over the years. To add a gift of this magnitude to his already remarkable legacy is much more than we could have imagined,” said UCI Chancellor Michael Drake. “This gift provides help right when we need it, right where we need it, targeted strategically to produce the greatest impact for our campus.”

Biological Sciences Dean Al Bennett will be the first to hold a $2 million endowed chair as part of the gift.