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and encourages her new faculty members to do the same.
“Our community has got to know what we’re about,”
Pallavacini said. “We can’t be isolated, we can’t be seen as an
Ivory Tower.”
Dean Wright of the engineering school also hopes to
involve students in “hands-on problem solving.”
“One of the problems in engineering education is a
low retention rate,” said Wright, who was associate dean
of engineering at Purdue University before coming to
UC Merced. “Even the good schools retain only about
half of the students who start out to be engineers.” Wright
believes this is because the first two years are filled with
classes like calculus and physics, and students “don’t see
the connections” between this classroom work and the real
world.
With a program he calls “service learning,” the dean
hopes students “right from the start will be getting their
hands dirty,” working on practical engineering problems,
along with the required course work. For example, students
might build information systems for United Way agencies
that cannot afford to hire engineers.
“I want them to understand that engineering is a lot
more than solving equations,” Wright said.
Dean Hakuta of the School of Social Sciences,
Humanities and the Arts—“breathed a sigh of relief ” when
the campus opening was delayed a year.
Newly-arrived from Stanford University, where he spent
14 years as an experimental psychologist and professor
of education, Hakuta faced the task of hiring faculty and
establishing academic programs in a few short months. “I
don’t know how I could have opened (this year) without
compromising quality and making some really bad
decisions,” he said.
Then came the news that the campus debut would be
postponed for a year. Now Hakuta has time to plan for two
broad undergraduate majors—World Cultures and Social
and Behavioral Sciences—and graduate work in history
and perhaps one other field. He also hopes to start a World
Cultures Institute and an undergraduate major in business
management.
Historian Gregg Herken, who has written books about
nuclear history and the Cold War, decided to accept an
offer from UC Merced because “it’s something new and
exciting and different.” For the last 15 years Herken was
Senior Historian and Curator of Military Space at the
Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum,
in Washington, D.C.
A 1969 graduate of UC Santa Cruz, Herken hopes the
interdisciplinary spirit which characterized that campus in
its early years can be repeated at Merced, though he suspects
“that kind of cooperation will break down as we grow
larger,” just as it has at Santa Cruz.
Provost Ashley said a fourth academic unit—a school
of management—will be added soon, because of strong
student interest in that field.
The Sierra Nevada Research Institute, based on the
campus, will “work on the environmental problems of
this region,” said Director Samuel J. Traina, who came
to UC Merced from Ohio State. These include water
problems, climate change and the
pressures exerted on San Joaquin
Valley agriculture by increasing
urbanization.
Traina said the institute expects
to operate a field station in Yosemite
National Park, 80 miles away, in
conjunction with the National Park
Service.
But all of these academic plans
and aspirations are at the mercy of
budget discussions now under way in Sacramento.
Despite recent passage of a $15 billion bond issue,
California still faces a budget deficit of at least $14 billion,
which Governor Schwarzenegger hopes to reduce or
eliminate without raising taxes. That means big cuts in many
state programs, including higher education.
The 2004-05 Schwarzenegger budget proposes cuts of
nine percent for the California State University system,
7.9 percent for the University of California, and a slight
increase for the state’s 109 community colleges. Tuition
would be increased substantially in all three segments.
Student financial aid would be reduced and funding would
be eliminated for “outreach” programs, which seek to recruit
low-income and minority students and prepare them for
admission to UC or Cal State.
Schwarzenegger also wants freshman enrollment at both
UC and Cal State to be reduced by ten percent, with 7,000
students diverted to community colleges instead.
In the face of such stringent measures, does it make sense
to open UC Merced? Some think not.
Historian Gregg Herken joined the UC Merced faculty because “it’s something new
and exciting and different.”
Supporters of the new
campus argue that it
will provide an economic
lift to one of the poorest
areas in the state.