I recently stumbled across a petition that caught my eye. It is advocating for the creation of a University of California science, technology, engineering, and mathematics campus in Redding. For those who do not know, Redding, situated in Shasta County, is the largest city in California north of Sacramento. It is also the city where I was born, and the nearest city to the small town where I spent the first 18 years of my life. I think the idea of a University of California campus in northern California is a very good one, and was happy to add my name to the petition.
The petition’s authors point out that Redding once lost out as the site for the creation of the first UC campus of the twenty-first century to Merced. That made sense at the time: Merced is located in the Central Valley, a much more populated region of the state, and also amongst the poorest regions in the country.
But there is no UC campus north of Davis. There are two California State University campuses north of Sacramento—in Chico and Humboldt—but the CSU system is a different beast, with less emphasis on research, fewer advanced degrees, less prestige, and less ability to revitalize a region of the state that has more than its share of poverty and economic travails.
There are two ideas to tackle. Firstly, the issue of a new UC campus, and what such a campus might look like. And secondly, the issue of placing one in the north state.
The latter makes a great deal of sense. While the population is not booming, there is clearly demand in the region for an institute of higher education that offers research opportunities. The construction and maintenance of such an institution could create much needed jobs in the North State, and the presence of a research institution could mean more attention to the economic, social, and environmental issue facing the region.
Northern California has suffered from abysmal representation at the state and federal level. It might be more difficult, however, for know-nothing, anti-communitarian Republicans to serve the region so poorly if they were also charged with looking after such a vital and vibrant institution. And north state residents might develop a greater appreciation for the transformative potential of public institutions if one of the state’s preeminent institutions was located in their midst.
The petition points out that Northern California’s students would benefit from access to a UC campus. But the truth is, just as all Californians, including those in the north state, benefit from world-class universities in Davis, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Merced, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Irvine, Riverside, San Diego, and San Francisco, all Californians would have much to gain from an additional campus located in Redding.
Northern California is a stunningly beautiful place, with abundant lakes and rivers, magnificent mountains and volcanic activity, immense forests, an impressive coastline, and the upper reaches of the Central Valley. Such a location would attract students from across the state, and the proximity to such varied natural terrain might well lend itself to top-tier research in traditional and emerging STEM fields.
If one reason that I think a “UC Redding” would be a great thing has to do with my attachment to the region, the other has to do with my attachment to the institution. I am a UC alum, having spent four years at UC Irvine and six years at UC Berkeley. This extraordinary institution and two of its beautiful, stimulating campuses, historically sustained by the citizens of California, was my home for ten wonderful years. It supported me, challenged me, gave me the time and the space and the tools to think. It exposed me to fields of inquiry I never knew existed, sent me around the world, and sent me to a new university to try to do a little for my students of what it did for me. Leaving UC was amongst the most difficult things I’ve done, but is also crucial, because everyone deserves to spend some time in such an environment, and because the sense of belonging to a larger world of free and disciplined thought never disappears.
UC allowed me to meet people from around the state, around the country, and around the world who were studying and making striking advancements in addressing the most burning problems—whether environmental, economic, social, philosophical, political, or technological.
And it allowed me to meet people asking questions about human or scientific problems which today seem quixotic but will tomorrow seem urgent because of the prescience of those questions and the freedom such an institution gives people to ask them. UC is a model of a university that is of the world, rather than standing apart from it.
California needs more of its students in higher education, and it needs them not just in the fields of the moment, but in all of those disciplines which combined equip us to assess and address our needs and condition.
For this reason, I think that a “UC Redding” should not be a STEM campus, but should embrace the range of disciplines, traditional and otherwise, that concern our human condition.
Today, UC faces incredible challenges. California’s citizens—many of whom attended UC for free or close to it—have forgotten what it takes to maintain our great universities. They, our Governor, and the Republican Party are attempting to make UC a leaner, meaner, less hospitable, more expensive, and more utilitarian place. They have violated the social contract between one generation and the next, that requires people to look at our community through a wide-angle lens rather than a keyhole, and understand how they and those who come after them will benefit from their investments in education, in research, and in free thought.
Taking advantage of this neglect, UC is now run by cadres of corporate-minded bureaucrats who want to slowly privatize the UC so that it will be open only to those who can pay. Its horizons will shrink as it caters to the short-term needs of industry rather than the long-term needs of our state, national, and world community. And students will find it more difficult to see the beauty of free inquiry that the UC offers as they are funneled towards “practical” degrees that will earn them the kind of salaries they need to pay off massive student debt.
Building a UC Redding could mark the start of a new era for the UC. If Californians put their mind to it, they could construct a beautiful new campus in the North State which could revitalize a marginalized region. They could commit themselves to bulldozing the barriers to access in the form of obscene tuition levels that they have constructed during some dark years. And they could recapture the dream of an institution dedicated toward serving the public through teaching, research and activism.
I’d urge you to sign the petition and think about what the University has done for the state and could do for Northern California.