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Lee family donates $15 million for UNLV’s business school

UNLV Donation

Leila Navidi

Ted and Doris Lee chat with well-wishers before an announcement of a $15 million donation from the Ted and Doris Lee family to the UNLV business college on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011.

Updated Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 | 4:46 p.m.

UNLV Donation

UNLV President Neal Smatresk, Ted Lee, Doris Lee and their son Gregory Lee sit onstage during an announcement of a $15 million donation from the Ted and Doris Lee family to the UNLV business college on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Lee family donates $15 million for UNLV's business school

UNLV received a $15 million donation - one of its largest ever - to its business school from local entrepreneurs Ted and Doris Lee.

The Lee family story

The Lee family story is one of hard work and determination.

Doris Lee’s father came to the United States from China in 1901 with no money and settled in Vallejo, Calif. He built a fortune managing 99-cent stores, including the National Dollar Store that he founded at 5th and Fremont streets.

He instilled in Doris Lee, 92, the importance of education. She went on to Stanford University and UC Berkeley.

Ted Lee, 78, graduated from Harvard University and earned his law degree from UC Berkeley. The Lees expanded the family business into gaming and founded Urban Land of Nevada, Urban Land Company and Urban Casinos.

They had two sons, both of whom graduated from Harvard and went into the family business. Gregory Lee is the president of Eureka Casino Hotel in Mesquite, which he founded with his parents in 1997. Ernest Lee works in real estate development, property management and casino operations with his family.

Boyd, Greenspun, Harrah and Hughes ... and now, pending final approval, add Lee.

That’s what UNLV plans to formally name its largest college — the business school — after receiving a $15 million donation today from the Ted and Doris Lee family to bolster business education.

The donation is among the largest individual gifts to a college or school in UNLV’s 54-year history and the largest private donation in support of faculty endowments.

It comes at a time when state funding for UNLV has dropped by about $73 million over the past few years, leading to the elimination of 19 degree and school programs this year. To avoid further cuts, UNLV President Neal Smatresk has called for a tuition hike above the state-approved 13 percent tuition increase implemented this year.

In announcing the gift, Smatresk said today he is grateful to the Lee family, calling the donation a “transformational gift that will change the national reputation of this institution.”

The bulk of the donation — $10 million — will be used to fund 10 endowed professor positions that will be created over eight years. The Lee professorships will be used to attract top junior faculty in high-need areas.

A scholarship program for high achieving undergraduate and graduate business students will be developed with a $2.5 million endowment from the Lee family donation. Under the Lee Scholars Program, students will be eligible for one-time $1,000 awards or renewable $6,000 awards for undergraduates, and $15,000 awards for graduate students.

The remainder of the money — $2.5 million — will go toward a lecture series and a visiting professor program.

The Lee Thought Leader Lecture Series will bring internationally recognized business innovators to campus twice annually. The Lee Visiting Professor Program will bring prominent scholars for intensive, one-week courses for business leaders to learn innovative ways to address challenges.

“This gift will make a difference in recruiting faculty and help us programmatically,” business school Dean Paul Jarley said. “But honestly, the best gift is the Lee family name. They’re great people who mean a lot to this community and we will proudly carry their name.”

Ted and Doris Lee came to Las Vegas in 1971, investing in real estate and the development and operation of casinos, hotels and restaurants in Las Vegas and Mesquite. Their two sons, Gregory and Ernest, own and manage the Eureka properties in Las Vegas and Mesquite.

The Lees have made major gifts to Harvard University, the University of California, Berkeley, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. In 2001, Ted and Doris Lee established the first endowed professorship in law at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law.

“The Lee Business School is the culmination of everything we’ve wanted to do,” said Ted Lee, who graduated from Harvard and UC-Berkeley. “My father used to say education is the best investment a person could have because no one could steal it from you and you can’t lose it. We’ve made this gift as a beginning — the possibilities for UNLV are immense.”

The Lee Business School is the largest school at UNLV with 3,500 undergraduate students, 500 graduate students and 75 faculty members. The college offers nine undergraduate majors and four master of business administration concentrations.

In 2009, Business Week ranked the business school’s part-time MBA program 52 out of 99 programs nationally. The school is also among 177 business colleges and schools worldwide to hold international accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Tonight, UNLV plans to honor eight families and companies that have given more than $1 million each over the years to the university at a UNLV Foundation dinner.

The largest gift in UNLV’s history is $37 million from the Greenspun family to support construction of Greenspun Hall. Other recent major gifts include $17 million from the Lincy Foundation for the formation of the Lincy Institute at UNLV in 2009, and $12.6 million from the Engelstad Family Foundation to support student scholarships in 2009. The Engelstad donation is the largest donation in support of student scholarships in UNLV’s history.

UNLV’s proposal to formally name the Lee Business School will come before the state Board of Regents on Oct. 21.

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