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Last month, I wrote about the University of California’s most recent crop of newly admitted students — how many people applied, how many got in and what the demographics of the group say about the future of one of the state’s most prized institutions.
One thing is becoming increasingly clear: U.C. Merced, the system’s first new campus to open since 1965, will play a crucial role in educating young, Latino Californians, who have been historically underrepresented at the university.
[Read more about who got into the University of California this year.]
Chancellor Dorothy Leland has helmed U.C. Merced through its initial growth spurt, including a $1.3 billion expansion, known as the Merced 2020 Project, that will double the campus’s size.
She’s set to retire on Aug. 15 after about eight years on the job, and a search is set for her replacement.
Recently, I talked with Ms. Leland about how Merced — and not just the university — has changed. Here’s our conversation, edited and condensed:
First, tell me about what’s next for you.
I’m going to remain involved here as chancellor emerita in several ways. I’m going to chair the 2020 Project governance board, which is really keeping my finger on the continued successful outcomes of that.
And then we have a memorandum of understanding with both Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks, and we have some potential new initiatives that I was in on the ground floor. I’m going to complete those as well.
Tell me more about how the Merced 2020 Project got started.
I came to U.C. Merced eight years ago and we were space-starved. We were offering classes late into the evening — 11-11: 30 in the evening. There was insufficient study space for students so you’d often just see them sitting down in hallways.
We were growing very quickly and the traditional ways of funding academic and research buildings had all dried up during the recession. At six, seven years old, we didn’t have a huge donor base.
Most of your donors are wealthy alums or grateful patients, and we had no grateful patients and no wealthy alum. It takes a while to get there.
I’ve described it to myself and others as a gerbil wheel.
I thought, let’s look outside of higher education at other industries to see if we can find some models there. That was the idea of looking outside at public-private partnerships. So that’s how the 2020 Project began.
What has it been like to lead the youngest U.C. campus, and a campus with one of the largest populations of underrepresented students?
We are a real engine of social mobility in the state of California. And these students come not just for themselves but they come for their families and their communities. So what we’re doing here is really important.
The flip side of being the youngest is being continually compared to Berkeley, as if we’d expect our toddlers to have achieved what a grown person would have achieved.
[Read more about how U.C. Merced has become a flagship for Latino students.]
Does that affect faculty or research recruitment?
We’ve actually been able to recruit from the top research universities in the country and, indeed, internationally. And there are really two factors: We are the University of California, and that’s a real draw.
Second, our faculty often come because of the special mission of the campus and they want to be a part of a young University of California campus that is not only growing its research programs and research prestige but also serving an amazingly diverse student population.
I have to imagine the relative affordability of the cost of living in that area factors in as well?
Yes, but it’s outweighed sometimes by things that are common in a region of the state where there’s a lot of poverty and lower levels of educational attainment.
We’ve lost people because of the lack of medical specialties that they need for members of their family — I think that’s a good example. And the entire San Joaquin Valley is significantly medically underserved, so it’s a challenge.
Can you talk about how the growth of the campus spurred growth in the surrounding community?
The city of Merced, in a fairly recent Milken Institute report, ranked as a really fast-rising city, and the report attributed that to the growth of U.C. Merced.
There are some significant investments being made in downtown, including the renovation of a historic hotel and some professional apartments, a multistory family entertainment center. So all of that is new dollars.
Here’s what else you may have missed over the weekend
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Officials initially said the gunman in Gilroy was shot by the police within a minute after he started firing, but the coroner’s office found he shot himself. Gilroy’s police chief said, “In my mind, it changes nothing.” [The New York Times]
Less than a week after the Gilroy shooting, the bloodshed in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso underscored the frequency of violence. There have been at least 32 mass shootings so far this year. [The New York Times]
Representative Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, who is the House minority leader, said in the wake of the Dayton and El Paso mass shootings that video games are probably a contributing factor. [USA Today]
Mr. McCarthy and other Republicans’ suggestion that violent video games helped spur the mass shootings echoes an earlier claim by the president that has been debunked. [The New York Times]
The founder of 8chan wants the site, which he says has become a hotbed of hate speech and violent incitement, shut down. Now, companies that help it stay online, like Cloudflare, based in San Francisco, are facing pressure to act. [The New York Times]
Three women — a mother, daughter and aunt — were killed when a beachside bluff in Encinitas collapsed during a family gathering. [NBC San Diego]
The collapse was part of bigger problems along an eroding coast. [The Los Angeles Times]
A 47-year-old woman who was declared missing during last year’s deadly Camp Fire was found alive in Oroville. [Chico Enterprise-Record]
Seabirds’ stomachs are filling with plastics; recycling markets are a mess. And California is facing a waste crisis. [CalMatters]
“Kids were flocking to the Haight, thinking it was sunny and got pneumonia, got sexually transmitted diseases, cut their feet dancing.” San Francisco’s original free clinic, which opened in the Summer of Love, has closed. [The San Francisco Chronicle]
Fewer California kids are signing up for football even as the state takes steps to prevent injuries, especially brain injuries. [The Sacramento Bee]
As L.A.’s Koreatown changes, two restaurants grapple with how to adapt. [AAJA Voices]
And finally …
It’s been a taxing few days of news. We hope you and your loved ones are able to take some time to care for yourselves.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.