Celebrating 50 years of UC Santa Cruz

September 27, 2015

Chancellor Blumenthal wrote the following opinion piece for the Santa Cruz Sentinel. It was published September 27, 2015.

Fifty years ago this week, the first students arrived on the campus of UC Santa Cruz.

These 650 free spirits were the first beneficiaries of a bold experiment in public higher education. From the start, UCSC was intended to be a new kind of university: a major research institution that offered students the intimacy of a small liberal arts college.

Putting out the call for students, founding Chancellor Dean McHenry had appealed for "Peace Corps types," which is just what he got. Those first students literally helped build the campus; McHenry later recalled campus work days spent swinging hammers and pounding nails alongside students.

What an extraordinary experience, to be part of the founding of a university. It wouldn't have happened without the vision and strong backing of civic leaders, who lobbied hard to bring a new UC campus to Santa Cruz. They competed hard against boosters of a site in Silicon Valley—and fortunately for us, they prevailed.

Fifty years later, UCSC is a campus with a distinctive identity. UCSC came of age during the 1960s, and the campus remains steeped in values of social justice and environmental protection. Students, staff, and faculty embrace the basic principle that an engaged populace strengthens democracy.

UCSC's founding coincided with a wave of change that transformed the Central Coast at a pace that unsettled some residents. In hindsight it seems clear that change was inevitable. National and international events stirred a generation of activism that transformed the entire country.

Today, the 16,000 UCSC alumni living in Santa Cruz County are an integral part of the campus's identity. They contribute mightily to the intellectual, cultural, and economic vitality of the region.

Universities are sanctuaries, devoted to freedom of thought and expression. Like people and communities, they evolve and mature over time.

UCSC scholars have produced pathbreaking work across the disciplines—and forged entire new disciplines, such as feminist studies, agroecology, History of Consciousness, and Latin American and Latino studies.

In 1965, UCSC's students were mostly white and among the most affluent in the UC system. Today, the campus serves racially and socioeconomically diverse students, 70 percent of whom receive financial aid, and 40 percent of whom come from families in which neither parent earned a four-year college degree.

Our alumni, now 100,000 strong, win Pulitzer Prizes for exposing government wrongdoing, and they serve in the actual Peace Corps at one of the highest rates of any large university in the country. In addition to crusading journalists and nonprofit leaders, there are many thousands of graduates for whom the lasting value of a UCSC education is an empowerment that lasts a lifetime.

This campus nurtures independent thinking and instills a willingness to ask "Why?," "Who says?," and "What if?"

UCSC's legacy speaks to the values nurtured in the 1960s, which are alive and well in Santa Cruz in 2015. As we celebrate UCSC's 50th anniversary, I appreciate the deep roots of our shared commitment to those ideals.

Thank you, Santa Cruz, for 50 great years.