Book Reviews

Book by Merritt, K. & Lawrence, J
Review by Matthew Church
Academic Advising Coordinator
Arts & Sciences Advising
University of Louisville


From Rangeland to Research University: The Birth of University of California, Merced details the processes involved in creating the tenth campus of the University of California system. UC Merced was the first modern research university established in the twenty-first century and the processes involved offer an excellent glimpse into the current state of higher education finance, politics, and organizational environments. The work is composed of several chapters, each written by an individual involved with the creation of UC Merced. While each chapter offers insight into the process, two of the more interesting sections address organizational structure and the politics involved in the creation of UC Merced. 

The possibility of enrollment demand outstripping system capacity necessitated the creation of a tenth campus. The new campus emerged in a political environment characterized by economic downturns, shifting gubernatorial administrations, and resource competition. At times, the economic situation delayed the progression of the campus and it was only through the intersession of political allies that UC Merced was established. Political allies were instrumental in the eventual opening of UC Merced in 2005.The section on the politics of campus creation demonstrates the interconnectedness between higher education and politics as it relates to funding. With finite resources, higher education officials can not expect to secure funding without assistance. Alliances with politicians and regional groups are necessary to allow university officials to compete for funding with other state services. Research universities not only compete against other state services, but also community colleges and regional institutions. The fostering of alliances with politicians allows for increased opportunities for funding and secures a political policy champion or entrepreneur. The experiences of UC Merced and its allies in California politics demonstrate a case study in alliance formation.

UC Merced organized their academic structure in a very innovative way to foster interdisciplinary collaboration. Unlike most institutions, UC Merced has no departments and instead had three divisions in 2005. The lack of departments allowed for the natural science and engineering divisions to offer a common year that allowed students to explore the difference between science and technical education before declaring a major. The divisional structure allowed for more collaboration within disciplines. Unfortunately, the authors noted the re-emergence of departmental culture and curricular disagreement recently worked against this collaboration. Other organizational innovations were also made. Student Affairs professionals were involved in curricular decisions and faculty hiring, creating a foundation of collaboration and respect between academic and student affairs. In establishing UC Merced, the administrators and faculty created a structure and culture where academic affairs and student affairs collaborated regularly to work in the best interest of the students and institution.

Merritt and Lawrence offer an interesting work that has numerous benefits for advising. Advisors can benefit from the collaborative examples in the story of UC Merced. The involvement of advisors in curricular decisions is an interesting idea and one that could be helpful at numerous institutions. A common first year for engineering and sciences is an excellent option, particularly for students who come in wanting to major in the sciences, but lacking specific direction. Additionally, the account of the political environment surrounding the creation of UC Merced provides insight to the interrelationship between higher education and state government. While there is no direct correlation between advising and politics, it is vital for advisors to be familiar with the setting of university policy. All individual involved with higher education can benefit from reading this book.


From Rangeland to Research  University: The Birth of University of California, Merced. (2007)  Book by Merritt, K. & Lawrence, J. (eds). Review by Matthew Church. Jossey-Bass, 152 pp, $29.00 ISBN: 978-0-470-23303-0
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