The Birth of a Research University: UC Merced, No Small Miracle


In 1960, the State of California adopted a Master Plan for  Higher  Education which was a three tiered plan intended to channel students according to their ability to either the University of California, the California State University or the California community colleges and a plan which limited the doctoral and research missions to the University of California The Master Plan was adopted during the great post World War II growth period in California attendant to an overall optimistic future for the Golden State.  In the immediate  years  following  the  adoption  of  the  Plan,  the  University  of  California  leadership  expanded  the  number  of  UC campuses from six to nine and plunged ahead in anticipation of robust enrollment demand despite concerns and misgivings of many  within  the  established  University  that  such  growth  would  diminish  the  resource  base    (and  hence  the  quality)  for  the established campuses (including Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and in addition since the nineteen fifties, Santa Barbara, and  Riverside).    The  campuses  born  in  the  1960s,  San  Diego,  Irvine  and  Santa  Cruz,  were  intended  to  adhere  to  both  the teaching and research missions  of the University of California and this expectation would clearly  demand significant resources. During the tenure of the great President Clark Kerr  (1958-1967) additional future campuses were anticipated and discussed, but not actually planned.  In the 1980s, a new President, David P. Gardner (1983-1191), also with growth on his mind, introduced a plan to both achieve budget wins in the State Capital, Sacramento, and to expand the number of campuses to continue to meet the Master Plan promise for the top tier of California students bound for college.   But by the beginning of the 1990s, California was suffering extensive pangs due to growth, a massive ―Tax Revolt,‖ with dire implications for state funded services, rapidly changing  demographics  and  concomitant  significant  pressure  on  state  and  local  services,  and  an  emergent  environmental movement which challenged unfettered development.  Thus when the plan was introduced to build at least one more University of  California  campus,  great  skepticism  and  enormous  challenges confronted  the  various  leaders  who  gradually,  very  gradually steered the course towards a tenth University of California campus.  This paper is a summary of the political history both within the State of California and within the University of California, which led to the eventual successful development of the University of California, Merced, the tenth campus of the UC system.    While this effort was eventually  successful, very much against the odds, the final word is that with the Great Recession of 2008-09, it unlikely that this feat could be repeated.

Lindsay Ann Desrochers
Publication date: 
October 1, 2011
Publication type: 
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)
Descrochers, L. A. (2011). The Birth of a Research University: UC Merced, No Small Miracle. UC Berkeley: Center for Studies in Higher Education.