The Start of the UC Davis Government and Community Relations Office
by Gary Sandy
The Office of University Relations was launched in 1986 as an outgrowth of issues raised during the development of the first long range development plan (LDRP). The unit was seen as a way to broaden the campus’ ability to address a number of operational, planning, and budgetary issues. University Relations initially served as an umbrella organization for the focus of campus priorities, both internal and external.
With the hiring of Marj Dickinson in 1987, the Government and Community Relations (GCR) unit was formed within University Relations. A variety of legislative and bond issues and the evolution of plans for Aggie Village served as catalysts for the creation of the GCR unit. Simultaneously, campus administrators began to recognize the need for the campus to engage with the local community and with federal and state offices.
Over time, a number of issues including typical town/gown issues rose to the fore. The UC system began its advocacy initiative and began looking for ways to leverage opportunities to enable the system to grow and to address emerging needs. At this point GCR was still, with its limited staffing and budget, operating in a largely reactive mode as new issues and concerns continued to multiply.
In 1992 the first program assistant for the Government and Community Relations unit was hired. Two years later, in 1994 Larry Vanderhoef was named Chancellor of UC Davis. That same year, Vanderhoef articulated his vision of a “fully engaged university” providing a vision for future expansion and laying the groundwork for a more sophisticated and proactive means of meeting emerging challenges. Vanderhoef’s previous tenure as provost and vice president of the university had familiarized him with the wide range of issues facing the university. The campus was steadily increasing in both size and complexity. Campus growth brought with it new issues. Increasing numbers of staff and students increased the university’s impact on the community. In turn they also drove the need for new campus facilities and new campus capabilities.
In 1998, Mabel Salon and Matthew Hargrove were hired to assist Marj with Government and Community Relations. As a result the unit and the campus were, for the first time, able to become more proactive, to identify issues before they emerged and to lay the groundwork for increased support of the university at the state, federal and local levels. Soon enough a new range of challenges emerged as the face of the university began to change. The proposed Mondavi center, a centerpiece of art, performance and culture for the entire region began to take shape. The Center was constructed and opened to rave reviews in 2001-’02. In 2003 the university took part in a federal process to find a site for a proposed bio-lab facility. The process sparked a large community protest and once again drew a clear contrast between existing campus resources and the need to address larger emerging issues.
In 2003 a proposal to add two new director positions, one for federal and the other for local government, and new support staff emerged and was approved. The addition of the four new positions gave the unit increased capabilities to plan, to forecast issues and trends, and to adopt a more pro-active orientation. Today the unit is using these new resources to increase its responsiveness, to identify problems before they emerge, and to deepen the university’s ability to engage throughout the region.