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UC regents choose new UC Merced chancellor, a Houston university president with California roots

UC Merced, the University of California’s youngest campus and one with special emphasis on educating students who are first in their families to attend college, will next be led by the son of a California farmworker who is now president of a Texas university.

The UC Regents on Wednesday voted to select Juan Sánchez Muñoz, who has headed University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) since 2017, as UC Merced’s fourth chancellor. Muñoz, who is to take over in early July and will be paid $425,000 a year, faces challenges in dealing with the current pandemic’s effects on the campus’ academic programs and budget.

Regents chairman John A. Pérez said that Muñoz’s personal story is one that “will give tremendous reinforcement to the hopes and dreams of our students.” He noted that Muñoz’s father at one point picked grapes in the Merced area.

Juan Sánchez Muñoz

Muñoz has strong California roots, having earned a bachelor’s degree at UC Santa Barbara, a master’s at Cal State Los Angeles and a doctorate in urban education at UCLA. A U.S. Marines veteran, he taught in the secondary education program at CSU Fullerton. At UHD, he helped lead increases in enrollment and graduation rates, conducted the school’s largest fundraising campaign and presided over recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey, according to UC officials.

UC Merced opened to undergraduates in 2005 and now enrolls 8,800 students, with plans for a doubling in coming decades. Three-quarters of those students are in the first generation of their families to attend college, the highest rate among UC’s nine undergraduate campuses. Its previous chancellor, Dorothy Leland, retired in August 2019 and since then the campus’ interim chancellor has been Nathan Brostrom, who will now return to his previous job as the UC system’s chief financial officer.


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