Skip to content Skip to navigation

Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey's Inaugural Address

October 25, 2002

We are gathered here today to begin a new chapter in the University of California. In doing so, we honor the stellar tradition of the University of California, which began in 1868 with an edict to “provide an education equal to that of the nation's best private universities and to make that education available to all.” In 1868, only the privileged few attended college, but California's free tuition meant that a college education would soon become the province of many.

The 20th century greeted a new surge in population and California responded by educating the rising middle class. The University of California led the nation in opening its doors to a broad, representative group of students. Thanks to this enlightened view, in 1930 California educated 20 percent of its college-age citizens, double the rest of the nation (Douglass, 2001).

Fast-forward to the 1960s.

We boldly inaugurated three new campuses to accommodate the baby boom that was gathering in California. With three new campuses, rapid growth at the existing UC campuses, and a boom in community colleges and the California State University system, California educated 45 percent of its college-age students, again almost double the national average (Douglass, 2001).

California has reaped enormous benefits from this investment in education, for the state's commitment has transformed lives, transformed society, transformed California and the world. It is no accident that one-third of all the biotechnology companies in the United States are located within 35 miles of a UC campus or that one-fifth of the nation's research and development is carried out in California.

The University of California, its faculty and its graduates have fueled these societal advances.

We are now on the cusp of a new surge in population, this one fueled by immigrants who have come to our state over the last 30 years. Fully half of California's residents were born abroad or are children of parents who were born abroad.

Will California rise to the challenge again, and commit to educating this new and growing population? Can we provide these children with the same opportunities that you and I had in the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s? The answer has to be yes. Our state's continued economic viability depends on it. Our children's opportunities and careers depend on it. Our society's ability to solve critical issues depends on it.

Our new campus, UC Merced, will help keep the promise that California made to its citizens in 1868. In classrooms and labs, in dormitories, over the din of cafeterias, in libraries that allow for quiet reflection, we will transform the lives of the next generation:

  • We will help educate the youth who will become our leaders and we will help them understand the interdependence of peoples and nations.
  • We will provide those engineers and scientists who will plan and deliver the next exuberant phase of technology.
  • We will offer the tools of thought and encourage the imaginations of those who will care for the planet, find cures for diseases and nourish our souls with the arts.
  • We will provide unique research programs, internships, study-abroad programs, and programs at the nation's and state's capitals - all with the intent of lighting an intellectual fire.

But perhaps our biggest task in transforming individual lives is to help students find their way. This task was best reflected in comments Bob Laughlin (1998), our distinguished academic keynote speaker, made a few years ago. Paraphrasing, we need to teach students “to have faith in themselves and in their own compass, to listen to nature to find truth, to love knowledge for the sake of itself, and to strive for greatness.”

The University of California at Merced is, then, a piece of the covenant begun in 1868 and stretching into the future - a covenant to transform lives and, by so doing, to transform society.

Let's move past the individual student to the transformations that take place off the campus. Allow me to mention just a few examples of how UC has transformed your life by the discoveries made through the ages (UCOP, 1993).

In 1880, Eugene Hilgard, a UC professor judged California's wines as “atrocious.” He brought European grapes to our state's wine-growing regions and began the research that has led to our state's wines being recognized throughout the world.

By the early 1900s, UC researchers discovered a method to remove the salts from our soil, paving the way for the Central Valley to feed the world.

The cyclotron pioneered by Ernest Lawrence has given rise not only to an understanding of particles, but to major leaps in medicine. PET (positron-emission tomography) scans, an application directly linked to these breakthroughs, are used every day to help diagnose and treat disease.

Atmospheric scientists from several UC campuses called attention to the depletion of the ozone layer and, in a story that merits wider telling, engineered ways to preserve this important part of our atmosphere. As we sit here today, the measures adopted worldwide are slowly repairing the ozone hole.

On the lighter side, as a scuba diver who abhors cold water, I appreciate the development of the wetsuit by a physicist at Cal. And while surfers and scuba divers use wetsuits for recreation, the wetsuit has helped military and commercial efforts as well.

UC investigators found a way to expose fingerprints when standard technologies fail. The process uses gold particles that bind to proteins left by fingers. I am sure this technique will soon appear on the hit television show C.S.I. (Crime Scene Investigation - CBS).

UC investigators analyzed the DNA from a bee dating back 40 million years, no doubt giving rise to the plot behind Jurassic Park.

Hepatitis B vaccine, human growth hormone, the Camarosa strawberry and light-emitting diodes - all products of UC research - have transformed your life, whether you realize it or not.

Lasers, fiber optics, wireless telecommunications and hundreds of other developments in agriculture, aerospace, electronics, computing and biotechnology have made our state's economy the fifth largest in the world. Literally hundreds of companies have been spawned by UC faculty, graduate students and graduates. Chiron, Genentech, Intel, and QUALCOMM are just a few that are recognized worldwide.

So today, as you drive in your car, made safer and more fuel efficient by researchers at UC; as you enjoy the produce of the Central Valley; as you take your medication, use your cell phone or enjoy a glass of wine, think of the UC researchers who have helped make it possible. And as you head for the polls next week and consider Proposition 47, think of all the educational institutions that have helped transform your life.

With your continued help, UC Merced will become part of this long tradition of transforming your life through research and development.

Two signature, interdisciplinary institutes are already envisioned. The Sierra Nevada Research Institute will focus on two issues dear to our hearts - air and water. These basics of life require our close attention as we bring 15 million new people into the state. Maximizing the water, using and reusing it to meet our needs; cleaning the air; reducing pollutants and protecting the atmosphere will require all of our ingenuity.

The second major institute, the World Cultures Institute, will foster research that centers on the rich cultural makeup of California and the San Joaquin Valley, and the ways in which different cultures have affected and are affecting our experience. Remember with me the richness of this cultural crossroads:

  • In the 1700s, the Yokut tribe fished in the Merced River.
  • In the 1800s, the Chinese helped build railroads and mines.
  • In the early and middle 1900s, Japanese farmers and Mexican braceros worked the land, and William Saroyan wrote about his childhood as an Armenian-American in Fresno.

Over the years, California's Central Valley also has become home to Scandinavian, Armenian, Portuguese, Assyrian, Southeast Asian and Latin American immigrants. UC Merced and the World Cultures Institute will celebrate the rich heritage of these many cultures and extend that celebration into research on our global society. In just a few minutes, we will welcome students from the many cultures who have called the Central Valley home and who are the impetus for the World Cultures Institute.

Supporting these major research initiatives at UC Merced are collaborative agreements with UC-managed Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the United States National Parks Service.

Our partnership with Lawrence Livermore will focus on environmental sciences, advanced computing and biotechnology. Our partnership with Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks will enable the use of the natural laboratories of the parks for field-based biological and environmental studies.

UC Merced will follow the long line of UC tradition, but we launch this new campus in circumstances that differ greatly from earlier years.

In the 1960s when the last three campuses were launched, the state provided more than 60 percent of operations funding for each campus. Because of the rapid growth of research programs, hospitals, public service programs and the like, today the State of California provides critical base funding that amounts to about 20 percent of the University's annual operating budget. The remainder comes from contracts and grants, from foundations, from gifts and from student fees.

This means that UC Merced must begin immediately to seek revenue sources to augment our state support.

We must immediately seek foundation support and we have. The Packard Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation and the Ford Foundation have all been extraordinarily helpful in our beginning stages.

We must immediately seek competitive grants and we have - from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Ford Foundation and the Yosemite Foundation.

We must immediately seek corporate gifts and we have. Wells Fargo, SBC Pac Bell, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company have helped fund generous programs to aid future students.

We must immediately seek private gifts and we have. To date, individuals have funded 14 endowed chairs and friends like John Myers and Margo Josephine have provided over $4.5 million in scholarships for our students. Our first professional school, the Ernest and Julio Gallo School of Management; our initial auditorium, so generously supported by Dr. Hanimireddy Lakireddy and his family; our library, the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library and the Ed and Jeanne Kashian main floor; and our recreational center, the Joseph Edward Gallo Recreational and Wellness Center, have all been extended and enhanced by private gifts.

We are enormously grateful because these gifts begin the foundation for excellence that characterizes the UC system. Many of those who have made these gifts possible are with us today. Our benefactors, seated in the front row, have collectively contributed over $30 million in private sector support. I would ask them to stand and ask you to join me in acknowledging their generosity.

I would also like to acknowledge the community of Merced. In 1988 - fourteen years ago - a small group of leaders from Merced decided to make a run at landing the campus. In the ensuing years, after review of more than 85 potential sites in the San Joaquin Valley and after a recession put the campus on hold, this small group of leaders kept its vision at the forefront. Today is a major step in realizing that vision.

There is one other group I would like to thank - all the staff at UC Merced. All told we have more than 100 folks working on everything from outreach to graduate degrees. They have embraced this adventure; they have all rolled up their sleeves; they are bright, caring, funny; and they keep me going. Please stand and wave so we can thank you for your dedication.

To this wonderful community, to our Regents, our Governor, our faculty and all of our friends, I thank you all for your support. We still have many challenges to meet and we need your help more than ever as we begin our countdown to opening day. We do this in a fiscal environment that is more than challenging. We do this as thousands of students fill other campuses to the brim. We do this when counties and cities are strapped for funds. Yet, we must move forward and we must count on you to envision the future with us.

So, today we launch this new campus; a new adventure in education. This adventure, like most great ones before and since, will require equal parts of hope, determination and good fortune. In the end, and with your help, an accomplishment that was unimaginable at the outset will, looking back, appear inevitable.

Thank you very much.


Douglass, John A. (November 2001). “A Reflection and Prospectus on California Higher Education: The Beginning of a New History.” California Policy Issues, pp. 81-156

Laughlin, Robert B. (1998). Nobel Biography.

University of California Office of the President. (1993). In Pursuit of Ideas: 125 Fantastic Finds. Communication Services, Office of the President, Oakland, CA