Skip to content Skip to navigation

Founding Chancellor, Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, Dies After Lengthy Illness

October 11, 2009
Campus Mourns Passing of Visionary Leader Who Overcame Major Hurdles to Establish First New UC Campus in 40 Years

MERCED, Calif. — Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, who spearheaded the multi-year effort to establish the 10th University of California campus in Merced and served as its founding chancellor from 1999 to 2006, died yesterday (Oct. 10) in Decatur, Georgia, due to complications related to breast cancer. She was 66.

“We are deeply saddened by Carol's passing,” said UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang, who succeeded Tomlinson-Keasey in March 2007. “Simply put, UC Merced would not exist were it not for her visionary leadership, her tireless determination and her remarkable gift of persuasion. The campus, the UC system and the entire region have lost a great friend and champion with her passing. We will be forever thankful to Carol for the many, many contributions she made to the university and the people of the San Joaquin Valley.”

Tomlinson-Keasey was serving as vice provost for academic initiatives in the University of California Office of the President in 1998 when she was named by then-UC President Richard Atkinson to organize and direct the planning effort for a new UC campus, which had been authorized by the UC Board of Regents in 1988 and sited in Merced in 1995. She immediately immersed herself in the arduous process of persuading legislators, business and community leaders, educators, interest groups and others that a major, UC-caliber research university in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley would bring lasting benefits to a largely underserved region of the state.

Despite severe budget obstacles, environmental concerns, political hurdles and numerous other challenges, she managed to translate the dream of a new UC campus into a broadly supported vision of future greatness. She presided over the university's grand opening in September 2005 and oversaw its continued development through August 2006, when she stepped down to return to teaching and writing. She retired from the university in 2007.

Tomlinson-Keasey devoted nearly 40 years to teaching, research, writing and administrative management at various institutions of higher education across the country. She joined the University of California system in 1977 as an associate professor of psychology at UC Riverside. She became a full professor in 1980 and held faculty and administrative appointments at UC Riverside through 1992.

Later that year, she was named vice provost and professor at UC Davis, and in 1994 she was appointed dean of the UC Davis College of Letters and Sciences. In 1995, she was named vice provost for academic planning and personnel. She moved to the UC Office of the President in 1997 as vice provost for academic initiatives and assumed planning responsibilities for UC Merced the following year. She was named the first female founding chancellor of a major research university in 1999.

In her inaugural address on October 25, 2002, on the undeveloped site where the first buildings of the 10th UC campus would soon begin to rise, Tomlinson-Keasey vowed that UC Merced would “keep the promise that California made to its citizens in 1868,” when the University of California system was established.

“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,” she said.

“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 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.”

Since its opening in 2005, UC Merced has grown to more than 3,400 students and has earned broad national recognition for the architectural design and environmental sustainability of its campus. Faculty members have already attracted more than $85 million in research grants and awards, and visionary plans have been completed for both the physical layout and the academic direction of the campus. In May, the university honored its first full class of graduates in a commencement ceremony featuring First Lady Michelle Obama, who praised the students for their pioneering spirit and urged them to give back to the community.

“UC Merced is well on its way to realizing the dream Carol so eloquently described,” said Kang. “Her belief in the mission and her remarkable ability to overcome enormous obstacles will help guide and sustain us for many years to come.”

In honor of her many contributions to UC Merced, the university's central quadrangle was recently named the Carol Tomlinson-Keasey Quad. In addition, both Tomlinson-Keasey and her husband, Dr. Blake Keasey, were awarded the UC Merced Chancellor's Medal for exceptional contribution to the university at the 2009 commencement ceremony.

A distinguished developmental psychologist, Tomlinson-Keasey authored three books and dozens of articles, monographs, book chapters and professional presentations on child and full-life development, how gifted children realize their cognitive potential, career development of women and numerous other topics in her field.

She held professional affiliations in the American Psychological Association, the Society for Research in Child Development, the American Psychological Society, the American Association of University Women, the American Association of Higher Education and the American Council on Education. She received numerous professional awards, honors and research grants during her career and served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Genetic Psychology, the Journal of Educational Psychology and the Genetic Psychology Monographs.

Tomlinson-Keasey also served on a variety of commissions and boards, including the Western Association for Schools and Colleges, the Henry Murray Research Center at Radcliff College, the Governor's School to Career Task Force, the Central Valley Futures Institute, the Great Valley Center, the Merced County Economic Development Board and the Governor's Task Force on the California Virtual University.

Born in Washington, D.C., she earned her bachelor's degree in political science from Penn State University, her master's in psychology from Iowa State University and her Ph.D. in developmental psychology from UC Berkeley. She also completed postdoctoral studies at the Institute of Behavioral Genetics at the University of Colorado.

Tomlinson-Keasey is survived by her husband, Dr. Blake Keasey, two grown children, Amber and Kai, and several grandchildren.

Memorial services are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to The Carol Tomlinson-Keasey Fund. Gifts may be made online or sent to the following address:

Make checks payable to: The UC Regents

Mail to:
UC Merced
Gift Administration Office
Attn: Carol Tomlinson-Keasey Fund
UC Merced Foundation
5200 North Lake Road
Merced, CA 95343