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Alumni Spotlight // Advocacy

WITH GAUCHO PRIDE

Attorney Ron Rubenstein `66
Rubenstein
Attorney Ron Rubenstein '66 served as
president of the UC Santa Barbara
Alumni Association from 2009 to 2011.

This year, Ron Rubenstein `66 joined the rest of the Class of 1966 at the 10th All Gaucho Reunion as they celebrated the 50th anniversary of their graduation from UC Santa Barbara. Rubenstein served as the co-chair of the Class of 1966 50th Reunion with classmates Ken Khachigian `66, Teri (Ito) Abbott `66 and Reece Duca `66.

At the 50th Anniversary Celebration Luncheon, Rubenstein was all smiles as he talked about helping organize the gathering of what fellow co-chair Khachigian dubbed as UCSB’s “Transitional Class.”

“I wasn’t sure how it was going to go,” said Rubenstein at the luncheon. “But it turned out that just doing it – organizing this thing, getting people together, working on it – has been a wonderful experience. I got a chance to meet a whole lot of people -- I bumped into my old college roommate from the first semester who I completely lost touch with and saw a bunch of old friends that I hadn’t seen in a long time. It’s been amazing – it’s a job I would do again in a heartbeat.”

Born and raised in California, Rubenstein graduated with a B.A. in economics from UC Santa Barbara and went on to earn his J.D. from UC Berkeley in the late 1960s. During his undergrad days at UCSB, he was an active member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and was involved in student government and intramurals.

Decades after his student days on campus, Rubenstein’s Gaucho spirit still burns bright as an alumni leader. From 2009 to 2011, he served as president of the UC Santa Barbara Alumni Association’s Board of Directors before he went on to be appointed to the UC Board of Regents. He was also on the selection committee that chose Janet Napolitano as President of the University of California.

Rubenstein continues to foster Gaucho connections as a key organizer of events like the Class of 1966 50th Reunion and as host of the upcoming East Bay Welcome Reception for incoming UCSB students, their families and local alumni.

In this Alumni Q&A, Rubenstein talks about his college days at UCSB, his experience attending law school during the tumultuous sixties and why he continues to be a strong advocate for the University.

Ron Rubenstein `66 and Ken Khachigian `66 reflect on Gaucho pride at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Class of 1966 at the 10th All Gaucho Reunion.

Where did you grow up? What were you fascinated by as a young teen?

I grew up in Piedmont, a small city in the East Bay – not far from UC Berkeley. As a youth, my main interests were history, politics and almost anything related to sports. I read as much as I could about American history and politics and played, probably with more enthusiasm than skill, whatever sport was in season.

What drew you to study at UC Santa Barbara?

My parents were not college educated. However, from as far back as I can remember, it was always assumed and expected that I would go to college. Since I had literally grown up in the shadow of the Berkeley campus, the University of California was always my “target” institution. When it came time to select a school in 1962, however, I ruled out Berkeley because it was too close and UCLA because it was too big. At that time, Davis had a reputation for being primarily focused upon farming and agriculture, Riverside seemed too remote and San Diego, Santa Cruz and Irvine were all new and virtually unknown to me.

Ron Rubenstein yearbook photo.

By default, I decided to drive 5 1/2 hours down the Coast to check out UCSB. Since my high school was rather small (my graduating class only had about 180 students), the size of UCSB was very appealing to me. However, its unique and spectacular location and its comfortable way of life absolutely sold me. At that time, Campbell Hall was the dominant structure on a campus that, with my freshman class, totaled about 4800 students. I clearly remember how large and imposing Campbell Hall seemed. It was located off by itself in a field and you could reach it only by walking on a dirt path forged through the weeds.

How did you decide on your major – and what was your academic experience like at UCSB?

I wish I could say that I had some driving ambition or life-changing experience that set me on my path to becoming a lawyer. I did not. I chose political science as my major only because the subject interested me. I gave no thought as to whether or how it might be useful after I graduated. By the end of my sophomore year, I concluded that I had no interest in teaching and did not see where else a political science degree would take me. Because my father owned and operated a small business, I decided to major in economics as it was the only major then offered that was in any way related to business.

I clearly remember my first semester grades. No matter how I rounded them off, I could not get my grade point above 2.31. As I was exposed to UCSB’s inspiring faculty, my fellow students and the strong prevailing academic environment at UCSB, I concluded that keeping my academic career on cruise control was no way to go through life. Since I wasn’t one of those few fortunate students who got great grades with seemingly little effort, I decided that I would have to make serious changes if I were to succeed academically. I realized that I was going to have to seriously devote myself to studying and, perhaps more importantly, was going to have to learn how to study much more effectively and efficiently. Fortunately, I was able to change my ways relatively rapidly and brought my grades up far enough to get into an excellent law school.

Were you very involved in student clubs and organizations during your undergrad years at UCSB?

During my first year, I lived, along with 49 other freshmen, in one of the Las Casitas dorms, Laurel Hall. Those dorms were old Marine barracks left over from the days when a military base was located on the present site of the campus. My experiences in those dorms were unique, often crazy and exciting. I made many great friends, a number of whom I remain in touch with today. Intramural sports were a huge part of life in those dorms and the quality of play in all sports was superb.

In my sophomore year, I joined a fraternity (Sigma Phi Epsilon). That was literally a life-changing experience in a number of ways. Not only did it play a significant role during my remaining 3 years at UCSB, it gave me to opportunity to form many deep and lasting friendships. Several of my closest friends today are Sig Ep fraternity brothers from Santa Barbara.

One of my fraternity brothers got me involved in student government. I ended up serving as Chairman of the Associated Students Finance Committee and as a member of the Legislative Council. That experience and the opportunity to work with Dr. Stephen Goodspeed, the Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs, both inspired me and greatly expanded my horizons.

Did you always want to be a lawyer? What was it like to go through law school?

As I began my senior year, I was like many of my peers. I had not given a whole lot of thought to my future. That changed rapidly over the next few months as the Vietnam War was rapidly escalating. For those who were undecided as to post-graduate plans and who were not medically disqualified from serving (4-F), the military draft was the default choice.

As I considered my future, my experiences at UCSB convinced me that I could succeed academically and motivated me, for the first time, to think seriously about and plan for my future. I became very interested in graduate school and applied to both business schools and law schools. Since entrance tests suggested that I had an aptitude for the law, I decided to return to the Bay Area and enrolled in law school at UC Berkeley (Boalt Hall).

I had spent the summer after my senior year working at the new UCSB University Center which had just opened on campus a few months earlier. Going from idyllic Isla Vista in August of 1966 to law school in Berkeley in September of 1966 was, in at least two respects, the most amazing and drastic transition in my life.

First, because of my relatively late decision to go to law school, I enrolled at Boalt without ever having taken any pre-law classes. I had never even read one case. I found myself immediately surrounded by brilliant students from Harvard, Yale, and similar distinguished universities. Most of my fellow students had graduated near the top of their college classes and had taken a number of pre-law courses. Although I immediately felt that I was in over my head academically, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my UCSB education left me well prepared to deal with the challenges and competitive nature of law school. I did fine.

Second, when I left Santa Barbara in August of 1966, the political and social turmoil that overtook the country in the 1960’s was just beginning to arrive at UCSB. Relatively few UCSB students were then deeply aware of or involved with the wave of unrest that was starting to sweep the country’s college campuses and which came to UCSB in a big way the next year. Berkeley, on the other hand, was ground zero for the Free Speech Movement, violent anti-war protests and the Black Panther Party. The campus was often occupied by patrolling police, Alameda County sheriffs and the National Guard, none of whom had any sympathy for the protests of students. Thus, within a few weeks, I went from the life of a relatively carefree graduating senior at UCSB to a totally overwhelmed first year law student at a university that was at the very center of the exciting social revolution overtaking the country.

The contrast could not have been more dramatic. Nevertheless, my college experiences were such that I found that I was more than adequately equipped for the challenges and transition that I faced. I survived and thrived.

What do you love about being a lawyer – and what are some of the challenges you face in this career?

Most typically, my clients are small business owners and my work for them usually involves negotiating and working on agreements related to a variety of business transactions. I have taken great pleasure in getting to know and working for my clients; my relationships with many of them have become personal. I have often had the chance to become involved in strategic and other business matters that frequently go beyond the typical scope of my legal work. A number of my clients have remained good friends long after my legal work for them had come to an end. I take great satisfaction when I know that my work has directly lead to a successful “deal” and that my client is satisfied. It is very rewarding when a client has been able to achieve all of his or her goals and objectives in a transaction.

The challenges of being a lawyer are many and arise on a daily basis. One particular challenge is the need for a lawyer to always be a vigorous advocate for his clients while, at the same time, not letting business differences and conflicting objectives between the parties become personal. Too often, I see a lack of civility and a failure to exchange common courtesies among lawyers. When I first began practicing, civility was the rule and courtesies were commonly exchanged. In days past, I was often able to enjoy a collegial relationship with attorneys on the other side. That does not happen nearly as often today. That is unfortunate.

When did you first begin to be much more involved in alumni leadership at UC Santa Barbara? Why is it important for alumni to remain connected with their alma mater?

I had almost no contact or relationship with UCSB for the first 35 years after I graduated. In 2001, I accidentally bumped into Jim Barber `67 who I had first met when I was in the dorms my freshman year. I hadn’t seen Jim in 35 years.

While catching up, he mentioned that he was a member of the UCSB Alumni Association’s Board of Directors. That position really appealed to me as it offered a great way to reconnect with a place that had been so incredibly meaningful and important to me. It provided me with a way to serve and give back to an institution that was probably the single most important influence in shaping my adult life. I applied for and was appointed to join Jim on the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors. The more I got involved with the work of the Alumni Association, the more I enjoyed the talented and hardworking people that I met and the work I was doing. It was all extremely satisfying. When alumni stay connected or reconnect, the University profits in many ways. It gains effective advocates and benefits from both their philanthropy and their volunteer efforts.

Why did you decide to host the 2016 East Bay Welcome Reception for our incoming students? Why is it important for alumni to participate in events like these Receptions?

We have been to a number of these parent-student welcome receptions in the past and have always enjoyed the opportunity to meet and visit with incoming students and their families. We get a chance to answer many of the questions they have, show them that the University community cares about its students as individuals and help put everyone at ease as the incoming freshmen set off on life’s next big adventure.

What inspires you?

I am inspired and, in many ways am in awe of the many Gaucho students I have had the pleasure to meet over the years. They are incredibly bright, infinitely more mature than those of my generation and have already developed specific goals and plans. Most are very articulate and extremely accomplished. In this day and age when so much of what we see and hear could easily cause a person to become a pessimist, the UCSB students I have met are an incredible source of optimism and excitement. They provide great hope for our future.

Meet Ron `66 and Erica Rubenstein at the East Bay Welcome Reception for new UCSB students and local alumni on Saturday, September 10, in Moraga, California. Click here for more information.

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