Mark Yudof bid a formal farewell Wednesday to the University of California. The outgoing UC president’s remarks at the Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco were part thank you, part reflection and, emblematic of his position as head of leading university system, part lecture.
He made his comments one day before the regents are set to vote on the nomination of U.S Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano as Yudof’s successor. Napolitano is scheduled to attend Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting.
Yudof wove the theme of finding balance throughout his talk. He quoted liberally from former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who, during his final days in office said that there will always be crises, but good leaders must avoid impulsive and costly action seen as “the miraculous solution to all current difficulties.”
The “critical yet never-ending task before any UC president is to balance what Eisenhower called the ‘actions of the moment’ against those of the future, all while accommodating progress,” Yudof said. “Eisenhower calls this ‘good judgment’—I call it ‘reflective evolution.’”
He compared the unlikely confluence of people and actions that came together to create the University of California to paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould’s description of human evolution as a “staggeringly improbable series of events, sensible in enough in retrospect and subject to rigorous explanation, but utterly unpredictable and unrepeatable.”
Yudof acknowledged that “like any institution, UC must change or deteriorate,” but he exhorted the regents and other to “preserve the fundamental attributes of what make this university great.”
During his five years as president, Yudof shepherded the university through a number of crises that threatened to upend administrations and erode the quality of education in a system once hailed as a model for the nation.
Most severe was California’s massive debt that cut the state’s funding to UC by $900 million over the past five years and saw a doubling of tuition from $5,400 to $11,160 per year.
Yudof has a lengthy résumé in administration and academics. Before arriving at UC in June 2008, he served as chancellor of the University of Texas system, president of the University of Minnesota and as a law professor and dean of the University of Texas at Austin law school. When his tenure officially ends on August 31, he plans to return to the classroom and teach at UC Berkeley Law School.
“This is a phenomenal institution,” Yudof said. “It gives me tremendous hope for the future of California and for the future of higher education. I hold great confidence in the university that my successor will inherit. And I wish my successor well.”