If there was one thing you could count on Mark G. Yudof to stand for, it was the academic quality of the University of California, the system he has led for close to five years.
Yudof, 68, announced Friday that he was stepping down as UC president, citing health problems, including gall bladder surgery. He couldn't be blamed if he also would like to avoid the major headaches of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposals to link future funding increases for UC to a variety of reforms, including less research and publication by professors (who would pick up heavier teaching loads) as well as increasing graduation rates.
Yudof came to UC after heading the state university system in Texas, where he had a reputation for holding high academic standards but raising student fees considerably. The same proved true in California, although some fee increases were inevitable considering the state's fiscal crisis.
For someone like Yudof, who wants state universities to maintain the same sort of reputation as the great private research universities, it must have felt like one catastrophe after another as course selections were pared and students despaired of finding the classes they needed -- or sometimes, any class at all.
At the same time, Yudof could be tone-deaf to the needs of students and their families. He initiated an administrative overhaul that should save UC hundreds of millions of dollars, but at the same time, he was a true believer in the academic arms race: that a great university could not hire able leaders without spending eyebrow-raising sums. He pushed for substantial raises in tuition rates that pressed middle-class families, and though he rightly made sure that lower-income students got a free ride, he never got around to smoothing the financial aid system so that it wasn't feast or famine.
One thing Yudof probably is looking forward to missing is the upcoming battle over Brown's proposals for a UC that runs on a tighter budget. Years ago, Brown suggested that professors might need only minimal raises because of the "pscyhic income" they derived from their jobs. Now, by pushing to take away from their cherished research and publication time, he appears to be seeing a reduction in psychic income as well.
Now, of all times, UC needs a leader who will understand the need to think originally, not follow the university pack -- that is to say, reduce administrative bloat -- but who, like Yudof, has the savvy and strength to maintain UC's reputation as the greatest public university system in the nation with some of the most respected universities in the world. Someone who will fight tooth and nail against the notion that being good is good enough.