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Fair wind blew UCSC a big donor: Jack Baskin sailed into town in the '60s and has made a lasting impact

Fair wind blew UCSC a big donor: Jack Baskin sailed into town in the '60s and has made a lasting impact
Fair wind blew UCSC a big donor: Jack Baskin sailed into town in the '60s and has made a lasting impact
Friday, April 13, 2007

It was the love of a sailboat that brought Jack Baskin to Santa Cruz in the 1960s, and led to the enrichment of the coastal town's philanthropic community; and the creation of the Baskin School of Engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), 10 years ago.

Then in 1996, the perfect storm occurred. Baskin had just married Peggy Downes, a former professor of politics at Santa Clara University and women's studies at UCSC. Chancellor Marcie Greenwood visited the newlyweds at their Santa Cruz home to discuss the founding of an engineering school. Baskin recalls how dynamic Greenwood was, but it was his wife's advice that sealed the deal on his $5 million donation, the largest in the university's history.

Baskin met UCSC founding Chancellor Dean McHenry, who persuaded him to get actively involved with the physical planning of the fledgling university in the early '70s. Establishing an engineering faculty was always on Baskin's mind, but it wasn't until he donated $1 million to launch a computer engineering program in 1983 that he found the impetus and support to move forward.

Establishing an engineering faculty was always on Baskin's mind, but it wasn't until he donated $1 million to launch a computer engineering program in 1983 that he found the impetus and support to move forward.

"He's a builder and now he's building an institution," says Patrick Mantey, founding dean and director of ITI, the Information Technology Institute in the Baskin School.

"His support was far beyond just the Baskin School; he supported the very essence of UCSC," says George Blumenthal, acting chancellor of the university. He's referring to Baskin's other $1.5 million contributions over the last three decades to the university's Institute of Marine Science, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, an endowed chair in psychology and scholarships in literature and other departments.

The Peggy Downes Baskin Endowed Humanities Chair for Interdisciplinary Studies in Ethics will advance the study of the role of ethics in various fields (including journalism, medicine, and politics).

Downes Baskin, who calls herself a Carmel old-timer, has co-authored four books, including Beyond Superwoman, a study of top Silicon Valley executives and the tug of war that exists between working and family life. Having championed and funded UCSC's Girls in Engineering program, a summer camp to encourage seventh and eighth grade girls in Santa Cruz County to pursue engineering; she's proud of the fact that the Baskin school has a higher percentage of female students than comparable schools.

Although they've scaled back on tennis and hiking, they have no plans to stop giving back. Jack Baskin is proud of his work with the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz, which he helped establish in 1982.

"I grew up during the Great Depression; we did a lot of scraping," says Baskin. "I've never forgotten the plight of disadvantaged people."