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UC expected to launch wide search for new president

With Mark Yudof's retirement set and no obvious heir apparent lined up inside the system, experts predict the search will concentrate on similar universities elsewhere, government and business.

April 15, 2013|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times
  • UC Board Chairwoman Sherry Lansing, second from left, will lead the search for the new system president. Mark Yudof, the current president, is retiring in August.
UC Board Chairwoman Sherry Lansing, second from left, will lead the search… (Beck Diefenbach, Special…)

Mark Yudof likes to point out that he was the first real outsider in more than a century chosen to run the sprawling University of California system. And he often jokes that, as a result of his leadership, it is likely to take a hundred years more before UC hires another.

Maybe not. But the comment does represent a dilemma facing the UC regents as they look for his successor: No obvious heir apparent is lined up inside the system. So experts predict the search for a new president will concentrate on large public university systems elsewhere in the country that dealt, like UC, with dramatic declines in state support. Others even expect a hunt beyond academia, for government or business leaders.

Strong candidates will emerge, said Molly Corbett Broad, the president of the American Council on Education, because: "The University of California is the Mt. Everest of higher education both domestically and internationally. There are leaders who see Mt. Everest and want to make the climb just because it is what it is."

But the national pool of those qualified who want the UC presidency may be smaller than in the past because the job "is a very challenging leadership position under these circumstances," she said.

It comes with intense political and financial pressures. UC has an annual budget of $24 billion, 230,000 students, 191,000 faculty and staff, 10 campuses, five medical centers and three national laboratories.

Whoever is hired faces the controversial possibility of tuition hikes even with recently improved state revenue as well as challenges about expanding online courses and changing hospital economics. Additionally, labor and student activists are sure to protest if the next president's salary surpasses Yudof's $591,084.

While most state university systems have just one or two research flagships, UC has the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses, with San Diego, Santa Barbara and Davis also highly ranked nationally, said Jane Wellman, the former executive director of the National Assn. of System Heads, which represents university administrators. Besides balancing those interests, a UC president must try to reduce costs and improve graduation rates, she added. The job is "an opportunity for innovators and change agents."

Matthew Haney, executive director of the UC Student Assn., said he expected the next UC president to come from outside the state, as did Yudof, who previously led state university systems in Texas and Minnesota. (Yudof is retiring in late August after five years in the UC job.)

"It doesn't seem as if [the UC regents] have elevated internal administrators for systemwide leadership to prepare them for this role," Haney said. The campus chancellors "don't have a significant or noticeable systemwide leadership presence," he said, and other top administrators don't have the national prestige that the faculty seeks in a president.

Well-informed observers say UC lost a possible inside candidate when Timothy White left UC Riverside's chancellorship recently to take the top job at the Cal State system. Now, those people say, UCLA's Gene Block would be considered a strong contender; Block insists, though, that he wants to stay in Westwood.

They also note other UC chancellors who may be reviewed: San Francisco's Susan Desmond-Hellmann, an oncologist and former drug industry executive; Irvine's Michael Drake, an ophthalmologist who previously oversaw UC medical education; and Santa Cruz's George Blumenthal, an astronomer and former faculty leader.

(Drake declined to comment. Blumenthal and Desmond-Hellman issued statements saying that they were concentrating on their current positions but did not directly answer whether they wanted the systemwide job, which is based in Oakland.)

Educators inside and outside UC are compiling lists of people from other states who they believe could do the job. Among those mentioned are: Mary Sue Coleman, a fundraising dynamo as president of the University of Michigan; Francisco Cigarroa, a transplant surgeon who succeeded Yudof as chancellor of the University of Texas system; James Milliken, a former Wall Street attorney who is president of the University of Nebraska; Kevin Reilly, president of the University of Wisconsin system and an expert in online education; and legal scholar William Powers, who is president of the University of Texas at Austin and is a UC Berkeley alumnus.

Some attention also will be focused on possibly hiring the first woman or first non-white man for the post.

Untraditional candidates from government, industry or philanthropy may be attractive, according to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is a UC regent. During past UC searches, even former President Bill Clinton would not have been considered because he did not fit the old model of a university leader, but that has changed, Newsom said.

"My sense is this moment in time may require broader consideration of someone with a fresh set of eyes, fresh perspectives, who can form new connections," he said.

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