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33
By William Trombley
Senior Editor
Merced, California
M
aria Pallavacini smiled with pleasure as she
showed her visitor a newly arrived, $950,000 mass
spectrometer that she and her research team at the
University of California, Merced, will use in their work on
cancer cells.
In addition to her administrative duties as dean of
the School of Natural Sciences, Pallavacini expects to
continue the cancer research that she carried on at UC San
Francisco for 12 years before coming to Merced. The new
machine, purchased partly with state funds and partly with
Pallavacini’s federal research grants, will make that possible.
Because of California’s financial crisis—the worst in state
history—some critics have proposed that Merced, the tenth
campus in the UC system, should be postponed or even
cancelled. State support for the University of California’s
budget has been cut by about $520 million in the last four
years and freshman enrollment has been capped for the
first time at both UC and the 23-campus California State
University system.
But the arrival of the mass spectrometer, and other
expensive research equipment, is a strong sign that, for
better or worse, UC Merced is likely to open in fall 2005. It
would be the first major new U.S. research university of the
21st century.
The first buildings are rising on a former golf course two
miles northeast of the city of Merced, 100 miles south of
Sacramento, in the heavily agricultural San Joaquin Valley.
Twenty-four faculty members have been hired so far. A
staff of more than 200 is working at the temporary campus,
housed in buildings that once were part of Castle Air Force
Base. The state has invested more than $300 million in the
campus to date—about $70 million in operating funds, the
rest in construction contracts that are financed by general
obligation bonds.
“We have passed the point of no return,” said Peter
Berck, professor of agricultural and resource economics at
UC Berkeley and chairman of a university-wide faculty task
force that has been overseeing the birth of the new campus.
But obstacles remain.
Because the UC Board of Regents chose to locate the
campus in an area of environmentally sensitive vernal pools,
several federal and state agencies must approve campus
plans to expand from the present 200-acre golf course
location to a 910-acre site that one day might accommodate
as many as 25,000 students. A 1,240-acre “university
community,” with eventual housing for 30,000 people, is to
be built on university land adjacent to the campus.
Spring 2004
New Campus Still Faces Obstacles
After being postponed for a year, UC Merced hopes to open in fall 2005
After the winter rains, vernal pools are alive with several
varieties of fairy shrimp—microscopic creatures that float
on their backs, waving their 11 pairs of delicate legs in the
air to filter bacteria, algae and protozoa. The shrimp are
an important part of the diet of migratory waterfowl and
local animals. Several of these species are endangered,
which means the university must obtain a “clean water”
permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has
jurisdiction over U.S. wetlands,
including these vernal pools.
It will take the Corps of
Engineers, and the state and
federal agencies that advise
them, at least another year to
decide whether or not to issue
the permit, said Nancy Haley,
chief of the Corps’ San Joaquin
regulatory office. “They’re taking
a risk” by building the first
structures on the golf course land,
Haley said, because the rest of the
campus might have to be located
elsewhere.
Without the permit, “we’d have to go back to the drawing
board and develop a new campus plan,” said Bob Smith, the
Merced County planner who is working with the university
Photos by Rod Searcey for CrossTalk
The first buildings are rising at UC Merced, where Carol Tomlinson-Keasey has been
chancellor since 1999.
Because of California’s
financial crisis, some
critics have proposed that
Merced, the tenth
campus in the UC system,
should be postponed or
even cancelled.