The history of UC Merced dates back to 1988, when the UC Regents  first authorized planning for at least one additional campus based on projections of long-range enrollment demand. From an initial review of more than 80 sites in the San Joaquin Valley, 20 were initially advanced for additional study.
Eight sites were then further evaluated and visited by a senior level task force, leading to the identification of three sites which were selected for detailed analysis and for inclusion in a full environmental impact report . Following this careful process, the Board of Regents selected a site in eastern Merced County adjacent to Lake Yosemite Park as the location for the 10th campus of the University of California in May 1995.
The Merced County location was selected based upon a number of factors, including the following:
In 1998, the university joined with the Merced County Board of Supervisors , the Virginia and Cyril Smith trusts, the City of Merced , and the Merced Irrigation District  to initiate a collaborative planning process for the university community. The planning process produced a concept for a campus and community that could grow together in harmony with the landscape.
That same year, Carol Tomlinson-Keasey  was appointed Senior Associate to UC President Atkinson to lead planning and development of the UC Merced campus. In 1999, Tomlinson-Keasey was appointed as founding chancellor of UC Merced, and the Tri-College Center on the campus of Merced College began to present UC Extension courses  offered by the UC Riverside, Davis and Berkeley campuses.
As the planning process for the campus and its academic programs  continued into 2001, much progress was made, including the establishment of a new UC Merced Center in Bakersfield. UC Merced now has four locations spanning the San Joaquin Valley and Southern Sierra Nevada region.
Careful analysis of the environmental factors of the site contributed to a decision to move the campus and community closer to existing urban areas and away from more environmentally sensitive lands. The concepts developed jointly by the community and the university formed the basis for the preparation of the campus Long Range Development Plan  (LRDP) and the county draft University Community Plan.
The Board of Regents approved the UC Merced LRDP and certified the associated Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in January 2002. Merced County approved the University Community Plan in December 2004 and certified the associated EIR. This action was a key milestone for the eventual development of the university community.
Faculty  members began to arrive in 2003 with graduate students in tow and began setting up research  laboratories and programs at UC Merced's ancillary research facility on the former Castle Air Force Base, biding their time until buildings were ready on campus. The first graduate courses began in fall 2004.
The campus celebrated its official grand opening and the arrival of the first class of undergraduate students on Sept. 5, 2005. The first semester saw most activities on campus taking place in the Valley Terrace housing complex and the Leo & Dottie Kolligian Library, as other campus buildings were not yet ready for use. The Classroom and Office Building and the Science and Engineering Building opened for use in January 2006.
The UC Merced project has enjoyed strong bipartisan support throughout its history. Conceived under Gov. George Deukmejian in 1988, the campus was sited under Gov. Pete Wilson in 1995. Groundbreaking took place in 2002 under Gov. Gray Davis, and the campus opened in 2005 under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. To date, the state has invested more than $500 million in construction and development of the 2,000-acre site. The university is expected to accommodate as many as 25,000 students when the campus grows to full capacity in about three decades.
Carol Tomlinson-Keasey left the university in 2006, subsequently retiring from the University of California. In her place, Sung-Mo "Steve" Kang, UC Santa Cruzís school of engineering dean, was appointed chancellor in March 2007. Kang was formally inaugurated in September 2007 and led the campus until June 30, 2011. As chancellor, Kang oversaw increases in student enrollment and also the physical expansion of the campus. Kang returned to the faculty to focus on his research.
The UC Board of Regents appointed Georgia College & State University President Dorothy Leland  to serve as the campus' third chancellor. She assumed the duties July 1, 2011.
Tomlinson-Keasey's death from a longtime illness in September 2009 saddened the university community, but the legacy she's left behind at UC Merced will speak of her commitment to both the UC system and Central Valley forevermore.