is no there there, Gertrude Stein once ironically observed of
Oakland, Calif. Without the irony, Stein's statement perfectly
describes the University of California at Merced, where there really
is no there. Located just 120 miles southeast of Oakland, the birthplace
of the illustrious University of California system, UC Merced is literally
a field of unbuilt dreams sandwiched between a golf course and a recreational
lake and marked only by a modest wooden sign.
by the fall of 2004, University of California officials hope to have
something quite substantial there: the first research university of
the new century and the 10th campus of California's highest tier
of higher education, the string of prestigious universities that extend
from Berkeley in the north to Los Angeles and San Diego in the south.
What's more, Merced marks the system's first foray into California's
vast San Joaquin Valley, a region historically underserved by the UC
system and plagued by poverty, low education rates, low income levels,
and a rapidly growing population.
is not just to create a new universitya daunting task in itselfbut
to reverse the economic and social declines in the state's Central
Valley. In order to accomplish those goals, university officials have
proposed a radical solution: ignore agriculture, the current driving
force of the Valley's economy and political power structure, and
focus on the galvanizing force of technology and engineering. And they
have appointed an engineer to spearhead the effort: David Ashley, former
dean of the College of Engineering at Ohio State University. As executive
vice chancellor and provost of UC Merced, Ashley will oversee all academic
and students affairs programs. That is, he will be instrumental in developing
the faculty, the programs, and the academic culture of the university.
to UC Merced chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, Ashley's strong
background in engineering and technology will prove vital to our creation
of the new campus, which will have a special focus in those areas.
It's no coincidence, either, that Ashley is an internationally
recognized expert on risk analysis techniques for project management
and construction engineering decisions. My academic career has
very much been oriented toward project management and construction management,
Ashley says. That interest stems from summer jobs in construction prior
to and during his undergraduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees
in civil engineering. Ashley then went to Stanford, where he received
a second master's in engineering economic systems and a Ph.D. in
civil engineering with a focus on construction management. Since then,
he has held teaching positions at MIT, the University of Texas at Austin,
and UC Berkeley, where he was also chair of the civil and environmental
engineering department prior to becoming dean at Ohio State.
the physical planning and site construction, which will begin in February,
will be overseen by someone else, Ashley's expertise is no doubt
welcome. At the same time, the project is a valuable learning experience
for Ashley. I'm having fun, he says. How many
people that teach construction management will have a chance to see
it so much first hand? Handed the opportunity to create something
new, Ashley is doing just that by developing an academic structure for
the university that is based not on colleges and departments but on
will be structured along the lines of three academic divisions: the
division of engineering, the division of natural sciences, and a division
that combines social sciences, humanities, and the arts. Within those
divisions there will be no departments. (Although degree programs, such
as in specific engineering fields, will be established to gain appropriate
accreditation for granting degrees.) The primary impact of this structure
is to move the administrative focus from specific departments to the
broader-based division. In addition, the university is creating multi-disciplinary
research institutes that will be at the same administrative level of
divisions and that will be staffed by faculty from all three divisions
who will work on collaborative projects.
goal? We have chosen not to start with a department structure
primarily because we want maximum flexibility in defining and organizing
around academic disciplines, Ashley points out. We anticipate
that this will encourage and facilitate more interdisciplinary activities.
that academic structure, technology and engineering will play vital
roles in the development of the university and of the surrounding region
in general. According to Ashley, the school will have a special
emphasis on science and engineering as a primary set of activities because
this is a part of the state that really needs that kind of economic
stimulus and that really needs to be able to provide the students that
are coming from the San Joaquin Valley with opportunities to go into
science and engineering activities. Like David fighting Goliath,
UC Merced faces a formidable adversary in the Valley's chronic
economic and social problems. While the rest of California prospered
during the boom of the 1990s, the San Joaquin Valley remained mired
in deep-rooted rural poverty and unemployment. One observer even labeled
it the new Western Appalachia. The Central Valley may have
some of the most fertile land in the nation, but the wealth created
by agriculture doesn't trickle down very far and remains in the
politically powerful hand of large farmers, leaving many migrant workers
destitute and living in shacks and trailers.
more, the region's population of 3.2 million is growing 30 percent
faster than the rest of California and outstripping local services.
Its large concentration of Hispanics, roughly 40 percent of the population
and growing, poses specific challenges, since they have historically
had the highest high-school dropout rate, lowest college graduation
rate, and the lowest median income in the state.
and local officials are trying to diversify the Valley's economy
by recruiting non-farm industries, such as telemarketing and high-tech
assembly plants. But companies have had trouble finding enough qualified
local residents to fill the positions.
is that UC Merced will play a pivotal role in developing the local economy
by creating a community of applied research professionals that will
attract new industries to the region as well as foster local industries
that will spin off from their research. In addition, the university
will train local residents and thereby supply the necessary skilled
labor pool for the region's industries.
a tall order for a campus that hasn't even begun construction.
But the school's innovative academic structure just may be the
right lure for bringing high-tech industries to the Central Valley.
And Ashley and his colleagues have already begun working on a two-pronged
outreach program in local K-12 schools to get more students interested
in college and to make sure they are qualified for admission.
sure, success will be measured in decades, not just years. But with
its own David Ashley engineering the master plan, UC Merced may have
a fighting chance.
with many women, my career path has been a little atypical, says
Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, founding chancellor of the University of California
at Merced, which will open in 2004.
an understatement. In fact, Tomlinson-Keasey isn't your typical
university chancellor. A self-described Army brat who lived
in postwar Europe and Japan and an avid scuba diver, she's energetic
and determined but easily breaks into a warm and inviting smile. Careerwise,
Tomlinson-Keasey's trajectory diverged at an early point when a
college advisor dissuaded her from going into the law. I was really
interested in being a lawyer. But my major professor said, Carol,
women don't go to law school. Why don't I write you a letter
for graduate school where I know you'll be accepted? This
was back in the Dark Ages, she says with a laugh. No one would
do anything like that these days.
career was psychology, and Tomlinson-Keasey went on to receive a master's
from Iowa State University and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from
UC Berkeley. That led to teaching positions at Rutgers University and
the University of Nebraska before she returned to the University of
California system in 1977, where she has remained ever since, first
at Riverside, then Davis, and now Merced.
Tomlinson-Keasey was plucked from teaching at Riverside to become associate
dean because, as she explains, I think the idea was that as associate
dean I would be able to listen and be empathetic to all the students'
problems and so on. Empathetic, yes, but also skilled and successful,
she quickly vaulted up the administrative ladder with impressive stints
at UC Davis before being appointed vice provost of academic initiatives
for the entire UC system. Her work on cutting-edge developments in education,
including the creation of a systemwide digital library and virtual campus,
gained the attention of UC president Richard Atkinson, who hand-picked
her in 1999 to be chancellor of Merced, the first new UC campus in nearly
long involvement with the UC system serves her well in her new job.
In her typically understated way, she points out that One of the
great pluses is that we are part of the UC system, and it has such a
great tradition, and the other campuses have been extraordinarily helpful,
and the other chancellors have been very selfless in their willingness
to share. And that has made this task much, much easier.
as she navigates her way through the complex issues involved in starting
a university from scratchincluding dealing with environmental
concerns and competing agricultural interestsTomlinson-Keasey's
proven ability to chart atypical courses through her life will no doubt
serve her well.