BERKELEY -- In a surprise announcement, University of California President Mark Yudof said Friday he will step down in August, ending a tumultuous five-year tenure burdened by tuition hikes and budget cuts.
In a prepared statement, the 68-year-old Yudof said he decided to leave his post after battling undisclosed health problems. He also said he felt it was the right time, with Proposition 30's new tax revenue boosting university budgets, to bring in "fresh leadership."
"UC remains the premier public university system in the world, and I was both honored and humbled to serve as its president for what has been nearly five years now," said Yudof, who said he plans to return to the classroom to teach law at UC Berkeley. "I will miss my daily interactions across the system with so many dedicated, capable and intellectually stimulating people," he said.
Hired in 2008 at a salary of $591,000, plus health and retirement benefits, Yudof came with 11 years of executive experience. He served as University of Minnesota president from 1997 to 2002 and chancellor of the University of Texas from 2002 to 2008.
Richard Blum, chairman of the UC board in 2008, said at the time, "He's expensive, but worth it."
Yudof took over the 10-campus, 234,000-student university system at the start of the recession and led it through one of the most financially painful periods in the institution's history. UC sustained about $900 million in state funding cuts during his tenure, and -- to students' dismay -- continually raised tuition and fees to help make up the difference.
Now, despite ongoing financial pressures, the system has a somewhat sunnier budget outlook. Gov. Jerry Brown's January budget proposal included an increase of roughly $250 million.
"The times were taxing, but we got through it, and we got through to the other side," said Russell Gould, a UC regent.
Gould said he sensed that Yudof felt this was a good moment to hand the seven-days-a-week job to someone else. "I don't think he would have let go if we were still struggling," he said.
The regent credited Yudof with reducing administrative costs and establishing the UC Blue + Gold Opportunity Program, which covers the tuition and fees of California students whose families earn less than $80,000 a year and qualify for financial assistance. He said the president had strong opinions, a "wicked sense of humor" and the ability to collaborate.
Yudof noted in his release that he would work closely with Brown, Assembly Speaker John Perez and other state leaders "to ensure that the university is positioned to continue on this forward course, which ultimately will benefit all Californians."
At a UC Regents meeting Thursday, Perez expressed frustration at the university's budget proposal. He and Brown, who also attended, advised UC leaders to stop complaining about budget cuts and look at ways to lower teaching costs and executive compensation. In a news conference after the meeting, in which Yudof appeared with state lawmakers, there was no hint of the upcoming announcement. In a statement Friday, Perez described Yudof as "an exceptional leader."
Brown also released a brief statement about the news. "Mark Yudof has a deep understanding of the university and he effectively dealt with some difficult problems. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him."
Now the search for Yudof's replacement begins. Sherry Lansing, chairwoman of the Board of Regents, will appoint a special committee to consider candidates and make a recommendation to the board. An academic advisory committee, with at least one representative from each campus, will screen candidates. Students, staff and alumni will also be chosen to consult with the special committee.
"I haven't a clue who we're going to replace him with because he's irreplaceable," Lansing said. "No one wanted him to leave."
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