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on the project.
UC’s strategy appears to be to start as many buildings
as it can, and hire as many people as possible, as soon
as possible, hoping the campus would be seen as too far
along to be stopped. Lindsay Desrochers, vice chancellor
for administration, said the university decided to go ahead
without the key permit because “it was the only way to get
this thing started.”
Although UC Merced has strong support from local
politicians and business leaders, there is less enthusiasm
for the project in the state legislature, especially among
Democrats.
During last year’s budget discussions, Senate
President Pro Tem John Burton called the proposed
campus the “biggest boondoggle ever.” State Senator Jack
Scott, chairman of the Senate higher education budget
subcommittee, has expressed doubts about proceeding with
the campus in the face of a huge state budget deficit.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger included $20 million
in operating budget support for UC Merced ($10 million
less than the campus requested) in his proposed 2004-05
budget. Although the legislature might nibble away at this
request, most of it is likely to be approved, and the campus
will at last open in fall 2005, with 1,000 students—600 first-
time freshmen, 300 community college transfers and 100
graduate students.
The advance guard will be a group of about 25 graduate
students who will arrive this fall, to pursue advanced
degrees in environmental sciences, molecular science and
engineering, and quantitative and systems biology.
The first undergraduate students will find an academic
program heavily slanted toward science and engineering.
Sixteen of the first 24 faculty hires are in these fields.
“We have invested early in science and engineering,” said
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost David B. Ashley,
former dean of the engineering school at Ohio State. “We
think this is an important capability for this campus.”
Campus officials had hoped to have 100 faculty on hand
when the first students arrived, but budget cuts, last year
and this, have reduced that number to 60. “We think we can
make that work,” Ashley said. However, Chancellor Carol
Tomlinson-Keasey warned, “I will not open with less than
60.”
At first, there will be six undergraduate majors and six
areas of concentration for graduate students—again, mostly
in science and engineering.
Some faculty prospects were bothered by “all this
uncertainty about the budget,” Ashley said. “It’s taken a lot
of hard work, but in the end we’ve made some outstanding
hires.” He noted that the new faculty members are bringing
along more than $7.6 million in research grants.
Jeff Wright, dean of the School of Engineering, said
“some of the more junior people were a bit gun shy,” about
accepting job offers, especially after the campus opening
was postponed from this year to next, “but the more senior
people know that things like budget crises come and go.”
“Most of the people we’re interested in haven’t asked
questions about the budget,” said Kenji Hakuta, dean of the
School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. “They’re
committed to the adventure of starting a new campus.” But
he added, “Until we have students here, we’re on pins and
needles…Once the students are here, we’ll all feel better.”
Dean Pallavacini of the School of Natural Sciences hopes
to build cooperative programs among the sciences and also
with the School of Engineering. “Everyone understands
you can’t work alone anymore,” she said, but it is hard to
get rid of “academic
silos” on an established
campus. “There aren’t
many places where
scientists, humanists
and engineers work
together—we hope this
will be one.”
In biology, “mapping
the genome has
changed instruction in
fundamental ways,” the
dean said. “We have
to find ways to train
students to be at the
cutting edge of this new
biology.”
There will be
undergraduate majors
in Earth Systems Biology and Human Biology, and the
first graduate program will be in Quantitative and Systems
Biology. Pallavacini also hopes students will work on local
problems, like the high incidence of asthma in the San
Joaquin Valley, especially among Hispanics.
She talks to local groups about current issues in science
Maria Pallavacini, a cancer researcher at UC San Francisco for 18 years, will
continue her work at UC Merced, where she is dean of the School of Natural
Sciences.
During last year’s
budget discussions,
Senate President
Pro Tem John
Burton called
the proposed UC
Merced campus
the “biggest
boondoggle ever.”