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California and the West

Chancellor Named for New UC Campus

Education: University, to be built near Merced, has no buildings yet, but selection of a leader signals regents' commitment to proceed.

July 18, 1999|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — The University of California Board of Regents last week appointed Carol Tomlinson-Keasey as the founding chancellor of its 10th campus, yet to be built on pastureland outside the San Joaquin Valley farm town of Merced.

The decision symbolized a commitment from UC regents and administrators not to turn back from developing the campus, even though they have no idea where they will come up with most of the initial $400 million to build it.

Installation of a chancellor will give the planned campus an advocate at the table with the other nine chancellors as they carve up annual budgets and wrestle over academic initiatives.

"This is an important moment in the founding of a campus," UC President Richard C. Atkinson said. The appointment, he said, was a little ahead of schedule and is a pivotal step "in opening the first research university in California in 40 years."

Tomlinson-Keasey, 56, has spent the last 18 months shepherding plans for the campus as vice provost for academic initiatives at UC headquarters in Oakland. Atkinson said he decided to offer her the $225,000-a-year job after a nine-month search that considered about 100 candidates from around the nation.

In ratifying his choice Thursday, he said, "The regents are endorsing Carol as someone who can get the job done."

The announcement brought cheers and a standing ovation from a busload of UC Merced boosters--mostly business and civic leaders--who have high hopes that the university will energize the area's anemic economy.

The throng mobbed Tomlinson-Keasey afterward, passing out lapel pins of the University of California flag, updated with an additional star in the arc of nine stars for current campuses.

Tomlinson-Keasey, a developmental psychologist, said her priority will be to cobble together academic programs for the campus so she can begin the multiyear process of recruiting top faculty.

"A new university," she said, "is only as good as its faculty."

Skeletal Campus to Open in 2005

She will also spend much of her time hustling for dollars to build the campus on the rolling hills six miles northeast of Merced.

The UC regents approved the Merced site four years ago as part of the 173,000-student system's preparations to accommodate the 60,000 additional students expected as the children of baby boomers reach college age.

As envisioned, a skeletal campus will open its doors in 2005 to accommodate 1,000 students, and grow slowly over the next four decades until it reaches its capacity of 25,000 students. UC officials project that they will have spent $400 million by 2010, when the campus will have enrolled about 5,000 students.

The Legislature provided $9.9 million in this year's budget for campus plans. UC officials have designated $55 million of a voter-approved bond to go toward campus construction, perhaps as early as next year.

After that money is gone, no one seems to know what will happen.

The new campus recently received the blessing of the California Postsecondary Education Commission, the regulatory agency for higher education, but commissioners insisted that UC officials return in October with more details concerning campus spending. "Where's the money going to come from?" asked Warren Fox, the commission's director. "That's what we want to know."

The project continues to attract critics who question the wisdom of building a campus from scratch, without so much as a highway connecting it to a major population area. Some business leaders in Fresno, the area's population hub about 50 miles south, still pine for the university to choose their city instead.

And leaders of other UC campuses worry about the new campus gobbling up construction funds they need for expansion and for fortifying older buildings to withstand earthquakes.

High Expectations and Powerful Allies

Educators argue that other campuses could accommodate the extra students at a fraction of the cost, because they have already installed the costly roads, utilities and other basic needs for a big campus.

But UC Merced has harnessed enormous expectations among San Joaquin Valley leaders as an economic panacea. Such enthusiasm has, in turn, attracted the public support of politicians stumping for votes in the Central Valley.

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who comes from the valley, has taken on the campus as a personal crusade. Gov. Gray Davis pledged his support during last year's gubernatorial campaign. And Vice President Al Gore, during a recent presidential campaign swing, promised to set up a White House task force to help the campus maneuver through environmental reviews.

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