A Personal View of UC Merced’s Early Days

A founding librarian’s journal gives a behind-the-scenes look at a growing campus.

A grand opening ceremony held the day before instruction began in 2005 featured the first student bridge crossing. A covered wagon led the way.

Nearly 20 years ago, ground was broken on acreage south of Lake Yosemite that would become UC Merced. Donald Barclay was there. He had been on the payroll for nearly two months, among the university’s first 75 hires.

In July 2022, Barclay, who helped give life to a true 21st century academic library, literally raising it from the ground up, worked his last day at UC Merced. Barclay, who retired as Deputy University Librarian, is known for his razor wit and a nimble recall of university people and events.

Since 2002, Barclay recorded those memories in a daily journal. “The story is told from my limited perspective, but anyone who wants to understand the chaotic thrill of creating a new university (or learn where a few of the bodies are buried) will find something of interest.”

Barclay shared parts of his journal with Inside UC Merced, which adapted his entries into a personal view of formative moments, such as the first day of classes in 2005, all held in the library building, and the grand opening festivities a day earlier. He wrote about First Lady Michelle Obama’s commencement appearance in 2009 and shared a fond remembrance of founding Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey in 2010.

Barclay will continue to be part of the university and Merced communities. He is active in the University Friends Circle and serves as president of Friends of Merced County Library and as a Merced County Library commissioner.

“I am proud to have had a hand in creating UC Merced. And this is only the first act, maybe even just the prelude to a play that, with any luck, will still be running 500 years from now,” Barclay said.

“I was unbelievably lucky to have stumbled into the career opportunity of a lifetime, and that is something I will never regret.”

I am proud to have had a hand in creating UC Merced. And this is only the first act, maybe even just the prelude to a play that, with any luck, will still be running 500 years from now.

Donald Barclay

Saturday, April 9, 2005

The model that Donald Barclay showed off at Bobcat Day events in 2005 now resides in UC Merced Library's Special Collections.

I went to the Bay Area to help with Bobcat Day events. We set up a table at the Claremont Resort in Berkeley with the architect’s model of the library and a PowerPoint presentation on my laptop. People love the model, and I spent a lot of time talking with prospective students and their parents about the building and library services. Later, in Santa Clara, a parent of a girl asked about me about campus safety, especially at night. I told him the librarian most likely in the building in the evening is a former Green Beret. The dad pumped his fist and said, “Yeah!”

Saturday, August 6, 2005

A staff member leads a campus tour for students and parents in 2005.

I attended the UC Merced student orientation in the Discovery and Challenger Centers at Castle, serving as a bus tour guide. En route to campus, we saw two cowboys on horseback driving a herd of cattle. I told everyone what they were seeing was not staged for their entertainment. During another tour later that day, I told the passengers that Merced is just like the Bay Area, only with cows.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Arnold Schwarzenegger is pictured visiting UC Merced as governor in 2005 (with Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey) and, inset, in an early publicity photo near the start of his movie career.

Three of us went to Leo Kolligian’s home to deliver a birthday card and a white dress shirt with the Bobcat logo and the words “Kolligian Library” embroidered on it (the library is housed in the Kolligian Library Building). The card was about two feet high and decorated with photos of the library staff. He was delighted with the gifts.

Leo lives in a mansion in a swanky part of Fresno. He showed us a hallway gallery. There were several photos of Leo and family with Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom Leo has known since the early 1970s, before Arnold was in movies. Leo said Arnold once asked him to back his film career for $3,000 per month in exchange for half of everything he ever made as an actor. Leo said he declined partly because two acting coaches he sent Arnold to both declared no one with that accent could succeed in Hollywood. Leo said not backing Arnold was the costliest business mistake he ever made. True story? Maybe.

Also in the gallery was an original Norman Rockwell portrait of Leo’s brother-in-law, actor Mike Conners, who had the title role in the 1960s TV show Mannix. Conners’ real name is Krekor Ohanian. A few weeks back, we did some research and found there was a recurring character on the show named Leo Kolligian. The character was a lawyer from Fresno. Droll.

Leo Kolligian at the 2003 groundbreaking ceremony for the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library Building.

Monday, September 5, 2005

A large, white tent to host the grand opening ceremony in September 2005 was put up on a dirt expanse that is now the Carol Tomlinson-Keasey Quad.

The campus looked as good as it possibly could for today’s Grand Opening ceremony. There were ducks on Little Lake and the Sierra was sharply defined by the sun rising behind it. We stood on the bridge in the hot sun as the parade went by, led by a wagon pulled by four mules. Then came the students, wearing white polo shirts made just for the event. It was the first time anyone had seen them all together. Of course, some had to be different. Polo tails out. Tails half-out. Rolled up. Worn like a scarf.

After the ceremony, we spent the day showing people around the library. Christopher Viney was amused that his UC Merced hat with sewn-on bobcat ears and matching tail were on display and would be placed in the university archives.

Professor Christopher Viney's Bobcat outfit from 2005 has been kept in the library's Special Collections.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Professor Cristian Ricci holds a class on UC Merced’s first day of instruction in September 2005.

The first day of classes at UC Merced. Got our “Ask Directions Here” table set up out front with volunteers in place. The table, along with our signage, kept confusion to a minimum. The first class in KL280 was taught by Sean Malloy, and the biggest problem he faced came from outside the room. The bounce of the morning sun off the huge, white tent where yesterday’s ceremony took place was blinding and nearly wiped out what was on the screen. As the sun got higher, the glare lessened.

Most of the action at our service desk was checking out laptops to students. We checked out dozens of computers, but only one book.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tonight, I got a text message that Michelle Obama has agreed to speak at Commencement. Unbelievable. It will be great for UC Merced, but also a huge headache.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

One of our student leaders was asked by the New York Times if he wished President Obama would be at Commencement, to which he replied, "We would be happy to have him introduce Mrs. Obama." That kid has a career in politics ahead of him.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama gives the commencement address at the 2009 ceremony.

The big day. First, it was off to my daughter’s piano recital. She marched on stage, gave her name, age and the name of the piece, then played it like an old pro. I was so proud of her.

I drove to campus and made my way to the second floor of COB, where they had lunch and a robing area for faculty. You went through a metal detector to get into the area. If you needed to use the bathroom, you had to go through the detector again.

They marched us out of the building and we saw Mrs. Obama walk by in her gown. Earlier, we were notified that once we went through the metal detectors in COB we were not to shake hands or touch anyone in the crowd. If we did, we would be considered “contaminated” and removed from the processional.

Mrs. Obama gave a fine speech. Not too generic. Neither too sappy nor too cynical. Her delivery was A-plus. However, the weather was freaking hot. They handed out bottles of water that people used to wipe their faces or pour on their heads.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Founding Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey and her car with a personalized plate in 2005.

We got word this morning that Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, UC Merced’s first chancellor, has died. She had been suffering from cancer for some time. She was a great leader and a good person.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Today was the campus memorial service for Carol Tomlinson-Keasey. It was nice to see a lot of old UC Merced faces, and much of Carol’s family was there. Lots of touching speeches. Carol’s brothers revealed that her family nickname was Gertie, which, after she turned out to be such a whirlwind, was amended to Go-Go Gertie. Her grandson, Bremen, about age 10, tried to speak about her but completely broke down. There were plenty of tears from older folks as well.

Carol’s father was an Army colonel and you could see that in her. Had she asked me to take a rifle squad and knock out a machine gun, I would have done it or died trying. She was the kind of unostentatious, steady leader nobody wanted to disappoint.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The official announcement went out today that UC Merced has been accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. We got the longest possible accreditation —seven years. Very good for us, indeed.

Back in March, I sent an email to library staff that read:

I just left the final meeting with the WASC Accreditation team. The chair's parting remarks were entirely positive.

All of you should — no, must — be proud of the fact that the library was specifically commended by the chair of the WASC team. This is a tribute to your hard work, intelligence and dedication.

New Branding Elements Support UC Merced’s Compelling Stories

A brand is more than a logo or wordmark. It is our collective and individual stories, our mission, and what drives us. In July, External Relations introduced a set of brand guidelines designed to amplify UC Merced’s mission in the San Joaquin Valley, the state, the nation and beyond.

Together we are: first. further. forward.

A new Brand website defines our message and provides what you need to share UC Merced’s story in a consistent and powerful manner. There is access to downloads for the “Big M” and Campus Seal, branded templates, letterhead, PowerPoint presentations, business cards, email signature, and more.

The External Relations team extends a special thanks to everyone who participated in the year-long process of developing our brand identity. Feedback and brainstorming came from staff, faculty and students representing every school and numerous divisions and included collaboration from every campus unit.

Each edition of the quarterly Inside UC Merced takes snapshots of recent achievements and events to form a bigger picture of what it’s like to work in a campus community. We follow the rhythms of the academic calendar, which is a distinctly different vibe than the changing seasons. To that end, starting with this edition we will refer to Inside UC Merced by volume and number (in this case, Vol. IV, No. 3 instead of Summer 2022). Thanks for reading!