A letter from the chancellor

Clearly, our story about the rising cost of commencement at UC Merced rankled some nerves. In fact, Chancellor Steve Kang sent a letter to students and staff today, responding to the coverage.

Here it is:

A Message from Chancellor Kang About Commencement

May 5, 2009

Dear Campus Community:

A recent story in the Merced Sun-Star called attention to the growing cost of our upcoming Commencement ceremony, noting that the price tag has increased significantly since the First Lady confirmed her attendance. The Associated Press, the Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications have since picked up the story, triggering a spate of critical comments in the blogosphere based largely on misinformation.

I am writing because I think it is important to assure everyone that I have full confidence in what we are doing and would like to offer a few points of perspective.

1) The First Lady's decision to speak at our Commencement is an incredible boon to our young campus, to the University of California and to the people of the San Joaquin Valley. Her participation reinforces everything we have stood for and tried to teach our students since we opened our doors. The student-led initiative that secured her participation makes her decision to attend even more compelling. This priceless, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity perfectly captures what UC Merced, our students and our state's future are all about.

2) It is unreasonable to expect the incremental cost of such a momentous event to be only marginally greater than previous ceremonies. Demand for Commencement tickets shot through the roof the minute it was announced that Mrs. Obama would attend, in particular by our students and their families. We had to rethink everything on a much larger scale. Security, audio and visual transmission, traffic control, shuttle service, food supplies, medical preparedness and every other aspect of planning had to be increased to a scale well beyond anything we had anticipated. These are neither extravagant nor optional expenses.

3) We strongly believe the First Lady's presence is a triumph for the entire community, one that should be shared as much as possible, despite the physical constraints imposed by our small campus. In order to ensure that every attendee has a pleasurable viewing experience - whether sitting in the front row or standing in back - we must have high-quality audio/visual reproduction. A lot of technical work is required to guarantee that the images and sound broadcast on large screens and through speakers on campus are as clear and crisp as possible. It just so happens that our investment in the quality of the experience for those present will also benefit the general public by providing a sharp broadcast for the city, media outlets and Webcasts worldwide to tap into.

4) We are making every attempt to raise additional funds to help defray these added costs. Several supporters have stepped up, and we will continue to seek other funding sources. We do believe, however, it is inappropriate to turn the First Lady's presence into a marketing event.

In sum, I believe there's a reason so many media outlets, from the Washington Post , the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times to campus newspapers at our sister institutions, are hailing Mrs. Obama's visit as an incredible coup for our young campus and a victory for the beleaguered San Joaquin Valley. This is a moment to be savored and shared. We are not about to deny the community that welcomed us here, the state's political leadership, the family and friends of our amazing students or our faculty and staff the right to witness history. UC Merced will manage this event in a way that reflects its profound importance to our graduates, the university, the UC system, the community and all of our constituents for many, many years to come.

Thank you for your part in helping make this event possible.


Steve Kang