This weekend, UC Merced’s Class of 2019 marks a hallowed campus tradition. The graduating class, who on their first day as freshmen marched under the arcs of the Beginnings sculpture, will make a return journey under the same arcs, walking in the opposite direction, as they make their way past family and friends from the commencement stage. This poignant ritual celebrates the end of one chapter of their lives and the beginning of another.
As Chancellor, it is time for me to make a similar journey. After eight incredibly exciting and challenging years, I will be stepping down as Chancellor effective August 15, 2019. It is time that I, too, end this wonderful chapter of my life to begin a new one closer to family and my own academic pursuits, at a more leisurely and measured pace.
The decision to step down is not easy, but the moment is right, both for the campus and for me.
I became Chancellor relatively late in my career and, frankly, never expected to serve as many years as I have. But the opportunities that came with each new class, each new faculty hire and each new administrative challenge, always kept me going.
I am grateful for all that we have accomplished together. UC Merced’s distinction, both now and into the future, is not a reflection of its administrative leadership but of a unique student body that worked harder than most against greater obstacles just to get here, much less stay here. It is a reflection of our growing numbers of faculty who are distinguished not just in their respective academic fields but in their innovative thinking and pioneering spirit. They came to UC Merced to make a difference and are now doing just that. It is a reflection of our staff members, who work harder and wear many more hats than those on other campuses, and whose dedication to the teaching, research and public service mission is matched only by their courage to innovate and change; and it’s a reflection of the supportive community of friends and donors, who step up again and again to lend their support to our vibrant young campus.
Together we saw the need to enhance the institution’s academic standing, and with the dedication of the faculty and academic leadership, we achieved in 2016 the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education’s designation as a “doctoral-granting university with higher research activity” or “Research 2,” the second-highest classification for American research universities. UC Merced is by far the youngest institution ever to be so designated. During this time, we also became a nationally-ranked institution, securing our place in the top 100 public universities by U.S. News & World Report. In 2016, we were ranked fifth in the nation by Washington Monthly for the social mobility UC Merced provides to its students.
Together we recognized that, as the campus that leads the University of California system in the enrollment of first-generation students, underrepresented students and students from financially challenged backgrounds, we have a unique obligation to improve graduation rates. With a lot of hard work by faculty and academic advising staff, we are now the second-highest ranked public university in the country for outperforming graduation rate expectations.
Together we tackled the challenge of space, for without it we could not grow. With the help of many out-of-the-box thinkers and the support of President Janet Napolitano and the Board of Regents, we designed an innovative public-private partnership solution, the first of its kind in the nation, that now represents Merced 2020 – which, as I leave, is beginning the last phase of its construction and is serving as a model for other public institutions across the nation.
And together we worked to give back to the region that fought for our campus to be located here – a region that is often forgotten by the rest of the state, and yet which still faces huge challenges on the most critical issues of our time: access to quality health care, income equality, and educational parity. Through the new Downtown Campus Center and other faculty, staff, and student led initiatives, UC Merced has become a true partner to the region, giving back through our contributions to the economy and the culture and by helping meet the region’s educational needs.
Between now and the 2020-2021 academic year, the campus will have completed many initiatives currently underway, and a new phase in the development of our remarkable young campus will begin. Now is the time for a transition to new leadership and the fresh vision and energy that this leadership will bring.
Therefore, I am pleased that President Napolitano has decided to launch an immediate search for my successor — a search timed to give our campus an advantage in identifying top candidates for the next permanent Chancellor. She plans to name an interim chancellor, subject to approval by the Board of Regents, later this week. I am committed to assisting the interim chancellor as needed and will continue to play a key role in bringing the 2020 project to successful completion.
I want to end by expressing my heartfelt thanks to the entire UC Merced family, including its donors and other supporters. These have been among the most gratifying eight years of my long professional career. I will stand for my last commencement filled with pride and gratitude for having known you, worked with you, and watched you blossom and grow.
I may leave you as Chancellor but I will return to you often, as I am, like all of you, forever a Bobcat.