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Opening Convocation and Celebration: "A Perfect 10" by Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey

September 5, 2005

Introduction

A tenth campus of the University of California is the
fulfillment of a promise to the people of California - a promise
that began shortly after the Gold Rush with the conviction that
education reshapes society and promotes prosperity. In looking at
the early history of the University, Pat Pelfrey praises those who
guided Cal through “the bogs of public apathy and around quicksands
of perennial bankruptcy.” At one point, the financial straits at
Cal were so severe that the president of the University was
sometimes confronted in the street by bill collectors. When a
hardware store wanted to repossess the college bell, three students
took it upon themselves to raise the $100 owed. Despite these
budgetary issues, the passionate citizens and early leaders of
California never lost sight of the goal - a university to serve its people.

From my vantage point over 130 years later, I can tell you that
the political bogs and financial quicksand are still there;
thankfully, so are the leaders to champion the cause of education
and this campus. The idea that became UC Merced might be traced to
Theo Kearney, a farmer and financier in Fresno, who first argued
for a local UC campus in 1905. Clark Kerr recognized the same need
when he started the planning for three new campuses to absorb the
baby boom. But David Gardner moved the idea to the forefront as the
echo of the baby boom approached. Since then we have had hundreds
of community supporters, dozens of elected officials, a gaggle of
Regents, a score of chancellors, four UC presidents, four governors
and there must be a chancellor in a pear tree in there somewhere.
Many of the people here today are included in that group of
committed supporters. These are the folks who negotiated the
financial quicksand and political whimsy of our time. I hope each
of you takes great pride in the students and faculty assembled for
they will turn this campus into a perfect 10.

Beginnings like today offer great promise. We have seen the
humble, rural beginnings of nine other campuses turn into millions
of alumni leading the world, thousands of innovative ideas and
artistic creations that thrill our souls. UC Merced resolves to
reach that same high standard - a perfect 10. How is such quality
achieved? I would like to suggest that at a research university,
ideas are the primary indicator of quality. Let’s talk about ideas
for a minute.

Ideas

When I was at Berkeley as a student, ideas bumped into me in the
hallway, swirled around me in Sproul Plaza, snuck up behind me in a
seminar and tackled me from printed pages. Ideas were everywhere
and they commanded my attention. Some were positively brilliant,
many less so, some surely should never have been voiced, but all of
them required me to consider, reflect, investigate, revamp, expand,
discard and consider again. Ideas force all of us to think.

Ideas move the world and they thrive in the culture of a
research university. I feel the force of ideas already at UC
Merced, ideas bubbling up and grabbing our attention. One of our
professors, and today the official representative from the
University of Chicago, said to me, “Carol, think of sunlight as a
liquid, then you can do anything with it, pour it from container to
container, spread it out, focus it, move it from where it is to
where you want it.” What a wonderful idea.

Today, new ideas flash around the world in an instant. Thomas
Friedman described the
Wikipediain his book “The World is Flat.” The
Wikipediais a free, online encyclopedia that can be edited
by anyone. It receives 60 million hits a day from all over the
world. What a fascinating way to have a truly global discussion
about contemporary issues and ideas. And note also that this forum
of ideas bears only a vague resemblance to the standard of
yesteryear, the
Encyclopedia Britannica.

New ideas emerge when scholars and thoughtful students have time
to explore in an environment that fosters free expression. And new
ideas flow from the University of California in torrents. Last
year, UC professors were issued over 400 new patents - more than
one a day. At UC Merced, we have structured our academic
organization with minimal barriers across disciplines just to
promote the free flow of ideas, and we have hired extraordinary
faculty and attracted thoughtful students. It is not surprising
that our faculty have already begun to contribute to UC’s patent total.

Leadership

To optimize the flow of ideas, you need leaders and faculty with
vision and appropriate resources. Ideas thrive in an environment
that is looking forward. Universities that are stagnant do not
prompt the ideas that will shape our tomorrows. Hence, University
leaders must assess where higher education is heading, where the
ideas of tomorrow will emerge and where resources could have an
impact. Then they can help create an environment that facilitates
the exploration of new ideas.

Our board of trustees recently visited Google - a fascinating
company that, like the University, deals in knowledge. The
leadership at Google has very explicitly constructed an environment
that chases new ideas. The environment allows great individual
freedom, it works to reduce mundane responsibilities, it promotes
individual comfort while encouraging an amazing amount of cross
talk between individuals with different kinds of expertise. It is
not surprising that, at Google, ideas are everywhere.

Several years ago, the state, the University and California’s
leading corporations began an unprecedented partnership that is
laying the foundation for intellectual exploration critical to the
21st century. Four California Institutes for Science and Innovation
will chase new ideas in nanotechnology, in information technology,
in biomedical research and in telecommunications. UC Merced faculty
members are already exploiting tiny sensors developed at one of
these institutes to trace the contamination of the rivers in the
Central Valley and to assess the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.

These are just two recent cases where leadership and vision
helped pave the way for new ideas.

Resources

Resources are woven tightly into any potpourri of ideas. An
adequate resource base is critical to assessing, researching,
promoting and implementing ideas. And remember, a single fantastic
idea may emerge only after multiple earlier failures.

Hence, every campus leader spends a great deal of time worrying
about resources. State funding is not sufficient to support the
investigations that fuel tomorrow’s economy. Therefore, like our
sister campuses, we are working hard to build revenue streams that
augment state funding. We look to the federal government, private
corporations and personal benefactors to help us pursue ideas.

Since 2003, our tiny faculty has brought in over $15 million in
grants and contracts. A recent grant to Henry Forman will look at
ways to help the lungs ward off the impact of cigarette smoke or
air pollution. Our Center for Computational Biology, led by Michael
Colvin, builds on the important relationship between computers and
biology. The human genome was sequenced in record time because
computer scientists and biologists worked together. Our Center will
exploit this synergy to understand more about biological systems.
Federal grants constitute an amazing percentage of the University’s
budget and these grants help propel ideas.

Private philanthropy

The University of California has been blessed by a tradition of
generous private support. Most of the early buildings on the
Berkeley campus were the result of gifts. The first great
scientific station - the Lick Observatory, was a gift from James
Lick. Gifts of art collections, endowed chairs and scholarships for
students have helped establish all of the campuses. At UC Merced,
our development staff of three has raised close to $45 million
dollars. We are so grateful to corporations, foundations and
private benefactors who have had the vision that will help us
become a “Perfect 10.” Many of these benefactors are in the
audience today and I would like to thank them for helping us in
these early years. You have helped start an institution that will
give back to millions of people around the world as the years roll by.

UC Merced will become a “Perfect 10” by following in the
footsteps of our sister campuses, by finding the scholars, the
leaders and the resources that mesh to create an environment
overflowing with ideas. Students, that environment will be yours to
enjoy, beginning tomorrow. Enjoy.

Let me conclude by paraphrasing John F. Kennedy’s inaugural
address. Our University will not be finished in the first 20 years.
Nor will it be finished in 50 years, nor in several lifetimes. But
let us begin.

Thank you very much.