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Panel urges chancellor of Texas for UC post

Regents praise Mark Yudof's fiscal skills. He is expected to get the top job next week.

March 21, 2008|Larry Gordon and Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writers

SAN FRANCISCO — Mark G. Yudof has his work cut out for him if, as expected, he becomes the next president of the 10-campus University of California system in the midst of a gloomy state budget that threatens staff reductions and more student fee hikes.

But UC regents who nominated the current head of the University of Texas system Thursday to the top UC post said they had confidence in Yudof's leadership abilities in both good and bad times.

"Mark Yudof, besides being a brilliant lawyer and visionary president, also has a history of being a good manager," said UC Board of Regents Chairman Richard Blum, who also headed the search panel that recommended Yudof after a two-hour closed-door meeting.

Yudof, 63, is a legal scholar who has been chancellor of the Texas system since 2002 and was head of the University of Minnesota before that, navigating money crises in both states. An expert in freedom of expression and education law, he previously was provost and law school dean at the flagship University of Texas at Austin.

Yudof attended the search panel meeting Thursday and left the meeting hall at UC San Francisco by a side entrance without making a statement.He probably will speak publicly after his expected approval by the regents at a meeting Thursday.

Blum said the search committee "enthusiastically endorsed" Yudof as a successor to Robert C. Dynes, who is retiring in June. In researching Yudof, Blum said, he never heard anything negative.

"The only comment I ever received back," he said, "was 'You'll never get him, but if you do get him, he's the best guy.' "

Blum declined to answer questions about Yudof's compensation other than stating, "He's expensive."

Dynes' salary was $405,000, and his total compensation was $434,166 last year. Yudof's salary last year at Texas was $476,400, and deferred compensation and benefits brought the total to $742,209, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. About $70,000 of that was state funds and the rest was from privately financed endowments, according to a University of Texas spokesman.

Yudof's salary has raised criticism in the Texas system, which enrolls 194,000 students at nine campuses and six medical and health centers. A high salary could be touchy in Sacramento as state government struggles with a budget deficit that could chew into UC funding. In addition, the 220,000-student UC system suffered bad publicity two years ago over executive compensation policies that legislators called too secretive and extravagant.

Terry Hartle, senior vice president for the American Council on Education, has known Yudof for many years and said his experience at two big public universities had prepared him well for UC. Among Yudof's challenges would be to restore confidence in the wake of the compensation controversy and to ensure funding "particularly now as the economy hits a rough spot."

"This is a very big challenge," he said, "but the University of California is the most visible, most highly regarded public university system in the world. It is probably a challenge he really wanted to take on."

In telephone interviews Thursday, Texas professors and officials said the Texas system's loss would be UC's gain.

Steven Goode, a veteran law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said Yudof "is widely admired for his judgment and administrative skill in leading the system." Especially useful for California, Goode said, is Yudof's budget savvy. He helped win approval of a plan that took from the Legislature the power to set student fees and gave that to the universities, a move that was "quite important for fiscal solvency," Goode said.

But Yudof lost on a related proposal to waive tuition for students from families earning less than $41,000 a year.

A Philadelphia native with a dry wit and distinct Northeasterner style, Yudof might have been first seen as not fitting well with the Texan legal community, but he performed "an amazing job in building ties with the alumni," Goode said.

Another Texas law professor, Jack Sampson, predicted Yudof would adapt as well to California as he did to Texas and Minnesota.

"Each place he has been has had all this regret and bewailing the fact that he moved on. That kind of tells you something about his ability to come up with ideas and to sell them to a widely diverse group of people with different interests."

University of Texas spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said Yudof introduced strong accountability with an emphasis on student testing, graduation rates and faculty research productivity. "The chancellor," he said, "always has been fond of saying, 'If it moves, we measure it.' "

Ironically, Yudof helped lead a fight to wrest from UC its longtime management of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which had experienced safety and security problems. But the U.S. Department of Energy in 2005 awarded a new seven-year contract for the nuclear weapons lab to UC and its corporate partners over the bid of University of Texas and its business allies.

On a personal level, Yudof is known for his love of pancakes. Minneapolis once held a pancake cook-off in his honor.

Yudof's wife, Judy, is the former international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, a group of 760 congregations. A layperson, she was the first woman to serve in that capacity. They have two grown children.

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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richard.paddock@latimes.com

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Gordon reported from L.A. and Paddock from San Francisco.

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