The University of California, Merced, is nearing the completion of an unprecedented campus expansion project and raising its reputation across the nation and the world, all during a time in which the COVID-19 pandemic has upended nearly every aspect of people’s daily lives and created much uncertainty about the near future.
And today, the university welcomes a new leader.
Juan Sánchez Muñoz took up his post today (July 6) as UC Merced’s fourth chancellor, having most recently served as president of the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD). He succeeds Chancellor Emerita Dorothy Leland and interim Chancellor Nathan Brostrom, who worked together for several years to make the Merced 2020 Project a reality and lay the foundation for the university’s next great chapter.
“I am deeply honored, but also humbled by the challenges we face in the months and years ahead,” Muñoz said in a welcome message to the campus community. “Most immediately, we must navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial crisis it has created. In making decisions about how we go forward, we are putting the health and safety of our community first, without compromising the quality of our teaching and research.”
During his first year at UHD, Muñoz launched the university’s largest capital campaign and led the institution’s recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey. He also presided over UHD’s increases in enrollment, retention and graduation; the addition of new degree programs including a bachelor’s of science in nursing and data science; awards from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for the university’s model success programs; and a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute — the only university in Texas to receive the award in 2018.
“UC Merced has reached a pivotal moment in its history, and Dr. Muñoz is the leader this campus needs as we complete the Merced 2020 Project and move toward Carnegie R1 status,” said Denise Watkins, chair of the UC Merced Foundation Board of Trustees. “I look forward to working with him to spread the word about the great work happening at UC Merced, and to drive much-needed philanthropic support for the university and its mission.”
“He appreciates the unique potential of UC Merced and shares our ambitious vision for the future of our campus,” said graduate student Larisa Gavrilova, a member of the chancellor search advisory committee and the Climate, Diversity and Equity Officer for the Graduate Student Association. “He has an impressive record in advancing diversity and equity in higher education, community engagement, campus expansion and fundraising — all of this can help him lead our campus into the next stage of growth.”
The son of Mexican immigrants to California, Muñoz is a first-generation college student who graduated from UC and California State University campuses, served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and taught high school and college in California.
“I join you filled with excitement, curiosity and a deep and personal commitment to ensuring that UC Merced continues to transform lives, just as the University of California has transformed mine,” he said.