Community Columns

Outgoing Chancellor Dorothy Leland boosted UC Merced

By Mike Murphy

When Dorothy Leland took the helm as the third chancellor of the University of California’s newest and smallest campus in 2011, the campus was still in its infancy.

Just eight years later, UC Merced now enrolls more than 8,500 students, including graduate students, and is ranked among the top 70 public schools in the nation.

Boasting world-class research facilities, pioneering graduate programs in engineering and life sciences, and a modern, 21st-century campus, UC Merced has become a model for success that must be attributed to Leland’s tenure as chancellor.

She has guided the school to major educational milestones, including the one-of-a-kind Merced 2020 Project.

This innovative, $1.3 billion public-private partnership is nearing completion, doubling the campus in size with new state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories, housing and athletic facilities.

Lauded as the 2017 P3 Social Infrastructure Project of the Year and Reuters’ 2016 “America’s P3 Deal of the Year,” the campus expansion is on track to achieve LEED Gold Certification for every building. And UC Merced is the youngest university ever to earn the Carnegie R2 research classification.

As mayor of Merced, I have had the honor to collaborate with Leland, staff, faculty and students to ensure the university’s presence and growth complements our vision for the city, now one of the fastest growing in the Valley.

The UC Merced Downtown Campus Center we envisioned has not only anchored redevelopment of the downtown area, but created a solid nexus between university, civic and business leaders. We are especially grateful for the Venture Lab, which seeks to cultivate innovative ideas to support the San Joaquin Valley’s socioeconomic success.

Among her most important endeavors, Leland has expanded educational access to students of all backgrounds, and her determination is reflected not just in the campus’ growing enrollment numbers but also in the diverse population of the campus.

Of the 8,500 students at UC Merced, more than half are low-income and underrepresented minorities, and nearly three-fourths are the first in their families to attend college. This led to UC Merced earning the No. 2 spot in the nation for outperforming graduation rate expectations, and 15th in the nation for social mobility, according to US News & World Report.

Further, Leland has been outspoken in support of her diverse student body, and in particular, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students.

UC Merced is the UC campus with the highest percentage of DACA students, and the chancellor has been a leading proponent for these bright, hardworking students on the national stage. As one of the founding members of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education, she has worked tirelessly with higher-education leaders to support policies and practices that help immigrant, undocumented and international students succeed at U.S. colleges.

The city of Merced and UC Merced are positioned to play a critical role in the economic transformation of the San Joaquin Valley as part of an economic megaregion, creating and attracting higher-paying jobs, innovation and greater opportunity for the fine and talented people who are proud to call the Valley their home.

I sincerely cannot think about Merced’s growth without thinking of Leland’s relentless resolve to provide world-class higher education for her students while seeking to leave our community better than she found it.

Her service to UC Merced and the San Joaquin Valley has been invaluable in propelling the Valley toward greater success, and as I wish her godspeed on her next chapter, I will never forget the indelible mark she made here.

Mike Murphy is mayor of Merced.