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UCs to Be: The Search for New General Campus Sites

June 25, 1989|Dean E. McHenry | Dean E. McHenry was the founding chancellor of UC Santa Cruz, 1961 to 1974. He also served as university dean of academic planning, 1960-63

SANTA CRUZ — The University of California is once again facing the prodigious task of deciding whether to create new campuses to accommodate the growing numbers of qualified would-be students. With more than 107,000 students now enrolled on eight general campuses, an additional 63,000 are expected by 2005.

We are about to re-enact the drama of 30 years ago, when new general campuses were launched at San Diego, Irvine and Santa Cruz.

Berkeley and UCLA are already oversubscribed. Davis and Santa Barbara are nearing capacity. San Diego and Irvine will be full within a decade. Riverside and Santa Cruz can grow until about the year 2005.

A few months ago UC President David P. Gardner suggested that three additional campuses would be needed near the turn of the century. Since then a deluge of inquiries and proposals has come in from local communities. Despite fiscal crises brought on by Proposition 13, the prospect of a university campus still appeals. It is a "smokeless industry" providing steady employment, cultural advantages, opportunities for local youth and, of course, prestige.

A review of how the problem was handled 30 years ago and how university towns have fared can give some insight into the complexities of choosing sites, securing approvals and developing new institutions--if new institutions are indeed needed: Some experts believe the university must more carefully evaluate its existing campuses to see if prescribed limits are realistic. For their part, UC officials say building new campuses is less expensive than expanding current ones.

In 1957 two reports pointed up the critical need for more sites for higher education, finding that the state was falling behind in provision of colleges and universities. A UC faculty committee advocated the establishment of four new general campuses. The university regents approved three--two for Southern California and one in Northern California. The fourth, for the San Joaquin Valley, was put aside for further study.

The university and the state colleges began jousting for position, with the state Legislature calling for orderly growth. The two segments agreed on a joint planning team, under the leadership of the late Arthur G. Coons, then president of independent Occidental College. After many months of gestation, in 1959 the team produced the Master Plan for Higher Education, which provided that the top 12.5% of each high school graduating class was eligible to attend a university campus. The Master Plan endorsed the three new campuses approved by the regents and set "maximum" UC campus enrollment at 27,500.

Searching for campus sites in Southern California was easy. San Diego had "pueblo lands" from Spanish/Mexican days and conveyed a fine La Jolla site to the university. In Orange County, the Irvine Ranch gave 1,000 choice acres.

In the north, however, there was much controversy. Consultants considered dozens of possible sites in the designated south-central coast, consisting of the counties of San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito. The regents narrowed the choice to Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. The Almaden Valley, on the south side of San Jose, was close to the center of the burgeoning electronics industry, within commuting distance of a large population, and backed by powerful local governments. Santa Cruz offered the spectacular Cowell Ranch site, a plateau of redwood forest and meadowland overlooking Monterey Bay.

In the end, the question of climate may have been crucial. On the day the regents visited both sites, they saw Santa Cruz in the morning, a summer day when the fog was lifting to show great vistas reaching to Monterey on the south; towering redwood trees formed a backdrop. In contrast, the Almaden Valley site was hot, and on the bus coming back, I heard one regent say to another: "It would cost us a fortune just to air-condition the place."

UC San Diego, UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz took shape rapidly and four years later were functioning general campuses.

The three newest campuses now have about 40,000 students. San Diego and Irvine are well-rounded general campuses, each with an array of professional schools and sizable graduate enrollment. Santa Cruz, for a variety of reasons (few commuting students, no professional schools, preoccupation with residential colleges), has grown more slowly, but it already has as many students as UCLA had in 1939, its 20th year in the UC system.

Assuming that all the obstacles can be overcome, and that three additional campuses are authorized and funded, what can we expect?

To begin with, there will be some sharp contests over locations. Population and numbers of high school graduates are major criteria in calculating need. Several heavily populated areas are not now served by nearby UC general campuses. It seems likely if three are built, one would be in the south, one in the north and one in the San Joaquin Valley.

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