Educator and champion: Professor Bruce Thompson inspires generations through teaching and philanthropy

Thompson has taught tens of thousands of students during his three-decade career at UCSC; now, he’s making an impact in a new way

Bruce Thompson, a lecturer in the Humanities Division, has taught history, literature, and Jewish Studies to more than 10,000 students throughout his three-decade career.

“I’ve had the most wonderful career.”

Nestled in his office at Stevenson College, surrounded by hundreds of books, Bruce Thompson reflects on his 33 years of teaching at UC Santa Cruz—and the legacy he has created for students.

“I really can't imagine any other place on the planet where I would have been happier the last 30 years,” he says.

Thompson, a lecturer in the Humanities Division, has taught history, literature, and Jewish Studies to more than 10,000 students throughout his three-decade career. While that’s certainly an impressive number, he’s most inspired by the individual lives he has impacted and the connections he’s made and kept.

“I’m still in touch with my very first student,” he says. “It’s one of the perks of the profession, to get to meet all these wonderful young people and follow their progress.”

Thompson shares that he considers teaching an honor—and a way to change people’s lives.

“It’s a way to make a contribution to the next generation,” he says. “By giving them an introduction to the world of knowledge which you yourself have had the privilege of enjoying and inheriting.”

Now Thompson is giving back and investing in the future in a different way.

He has included UC Santa Cruz in his estate plans, gifting half of the funds in his retirement plan to the Jewish Studies program. Specifically, his gift—when realized—will support the Murray Baumgarten Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies. The chair was created in honor of Professor Murray Baumgarten who taught at UC Santa Cruz for 50 years and founded the university’s Jewish Studies program.

“This was an opportunity to make a significant difference in a program to which I owe a great deal and about which I care very much,” Thompson says, saying that he believes Jewish Studies to be an essential component of any vision of a diverse curriculum and humanities.

Thompson notes that he was able to make this generous gift from his retirement fund—which has been accumulating with compound interest for 30 years—because he didn’t need all of the income it has generated and he recognized the opportunity to share it for the greater good. He was inspired knowing that his gift would continue to work on behalf of students and the university long after he’s left UC Santa Cruz.

Nathaniel Deutsch is the director of the Center for Jewish Studies, a distinguished professor, and the Baumgarten Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies. He lauds Thompson’s gift.

“Bruce has been a beloved teacher to literally thousands of students over the years, a wonderful colleague, and a true mensch,” Deutsch says. “With the same generosity of spirit, he is now making this transformative gift to Jewish Studies, where it will have an impact for generations to come. We are honored to cultivate his legacy.”

Jasmine Alinder, dean of the Humanities Division, agrees.

“It is truly heartening that Bruce has chosen to pledge his support to our Jewish Studies program which he has impacted so profoundly through decades of exceptional teaching,” Alinder says. “I am deeply inspired by his commitment to our campus.”

Thompson shares a quote from Winston Churchill that describes the legacy he is leaving.

“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

Thompson has made his life impactful.