The Southern California native has led Georgia College and State University in southern Georgia since 2004.
UC Merced's David Hosley says Leland is ready to take the reins despite the UC system's massive loss of state funding.
"She fully understands that we have challenges with the state's budget and even economic development at the local level. But she's actually involved at a state level in Georgia. And so I think she's eager now to come and manage the growth that UC Merced is having."
Leland earned a doctorate in philosophy from Purdue University and has taught at UC Santa Cruz as well as California State University campuses in Chico and Northridge.
Leland will replace outgoing Chancellor Sung-Mo "Steve" Kang, who says he's stepping down to return to teaching and research.