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“Many Democrats are asking,
‘Why are we doing this when
we can’t support the existing
campuses adequately?’” said a
legislative staff member who is
close to the budget talks but did
not want to be identified.
“The state doesn’t need new
research facilities, it needs more
seats for undergraduates,” said
a California State University
official, who also asked for
Some have suggested that the Merced campus opening
should be postponed for at least another year, and a few
have proposed that it be abandoned altogether. Naturally,
University of California administrators disagree.
“We’ve put so much money into it, it makes no sense not
to go ahead and open,” said Lawrence C. Hershman, UC
vice president for budget. “We’ve spent hundreds of millions
of dollars on buildings and faculty and equipment, and it
just makes no sense to stop the project or mothball it.”
Hershman said UC expects 66,000 additional students
(in addition to the 208,000 now enrolled) by the year 2010
and that plans call for UC Merced to take 5,000 of those. “It
would be stupid for the state to mothball this campus…and
then put up buildings on other campuses to accommodate
the enrollment increase,” he said.
“Promises were made to these people (in the San Joaquin
Valley), going back to the ’60s, that there would be a UC
campus, and it never happened,” Hershman added. “Now
we’re finally delivering on the promise…It’s the right thing
to do.”
Chancellor Tomlinson-Keasey argues that the San
Joaquin Valley is “terribly underserved” by public higher
education. In the 11-county area around Merced, only
a “pathetically low” 14.2 percent of the population has
college degrees, she said. Only 4.6 percent hold graduate or
professional degrees. More than 30 percent of San Joaquin
Valley adults do not have a high school diploma.
Governor Schwarzenegger’s
budget proposes cuts
of nine percent for the
California State University
system, 7.9 percent for the
University of California.
June 2008
University of California, Merced
ince 1994, most recently in the spring 2004 issue,
has reported on problems that have plagued the
University of California’s newest campus, near the San Joaquin
Valley city of Merced. Now some of those problems appear to be headed
toward resolution.
Enrollment has picked up; some environmental issues have
been resolved; and heated political opposition to the campus (the
majority leader of the California State Senate once called it “the biggest
boondoggle ever”) has cooled.
An attitude of inevitability has settled in among critics of the
campus. “It is what it is,” said a one-time opponent. “Now, how are we
going to help it succeed?”
Many of the environmental problems were created when the UC
Board of Regents decided to locate the new campus in an area of vernal
pools several miles east of downtownMerced. The pools, dry most of the
year, come alive after the winter rains and are home to two endangered
species—fairy shrimp and the California Tiger Salamander.
This required the campus to seek a “clean water” permit from
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has jurisdiction over U.S.
wetlands, as well as approval from the U.S. Fish andWildlife Service,
which protects endangered species.
For several contentious years the university stuck to its plan to build
a 910-acre campus, with a large adjacent “University Community” of
housing for 31,000 people, as well as retail stores and a performing arts
center, despite clear signs that this would not be acceptable to the federal
But late in 2006 the university changed course and began more
constructive talks with the federal agencies and with environmental
organizations that were opposed to the campus-University Community
“Eighteen months ago we decided to take a fresh look, a good
businesslike look,” said Associate Chancellor Janet Young in a 2008
interview. “We began fresh exchanges with the agencies” and with
environmental critics. Chancellor Sung-Mo (Steve) Kang, who took
office in early 2007, gave his enthusiastic support to the new approach.
The result was a new plan that reduced the campus “footprint” from
910 to 810 acres and moved it slightly, to avoid some of the wetlands
areas. InMarch 2008, the plan was submitted to the Corps of Engineers,
which said it would take at least a year to review the proposal.
The groups continue to meet regularly. “I am cautiously optimistic,”
said Carol Witham, a leading environmental critic of the original plan.
There are still plans for the University Community, next door to
the campus, although in spring 2008, a large number of homes that
were built on speculation in and aroundMerced stood empty, and the
foreclosure rate was one of the highest in the nation.
“We think the market will correct,” Young said.
In Fall 2007, enrollment was 1,871 (1,750 undergraduates and 121
graduate students). This was well short of the expected 2,600, the state
Legislative Analyst’s Office reported. The original target of 5,000 students
by 2010 clearly will not be met.
“That was a very aggressive plan,” Kang said. “No other new (UC)
campus has done that.”
Amain selling point for the
Merced campus was that it would
serve California’s Central Valley
(fromRedding in the north to
Bakersfield in the south), which
sends fewer students to the
University of California than do
other regions of the state. About
one-third of the current students
come from the valley, where the
campus recruits energetically at
high schools with heavy Hispanic
and other minority enrollments.
“We think that’s very
good,” said Jane Lawrence, vice
chancellor for student affairs. “No
UC campus is regional. We are
Applications have
increased as the
existence of the
Merced campus has
become better known
and as other UC
general campuses
have become more