UC President Mark Yudof will step down at the end of the month. Janet Napolitano will take the helm of the UC system after five years of steep budget cuts, soaring tuition and more than a little controversy over compensation packages for UC executives, including Yudof. He came from the University of Texas, the first outsider chosen to lead UC in more than a century. Yudof started in 2008, inheriting a university beset by financial scandals and allegations of mismanagement. Host Scott Shafer sits down with Yudof in his office in downtown Oakland.
MARK YUDOF: The general contours I think I knew. We were in a recession. Budgets would be very tight. We had a strong tradition, which I appreciated, of shared governance. I knew it was a very flat, non-hierarchical type of organization, but there were dimensions to it that surprised me. And one dimension was it was the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. I didn’t expect it to be that long, that deep, that severe. I didn’t expect a billion dollars in budget reductions. I thought maybe a few hundred million dollars. I knew we had labor unions, but I would say the relations were more difficult than I anticipated. Prior to coming to California I had never had a regents’ meeting closed down by demonstrators. Here, half our meetings were closed down.
SCOTT SHAFER: As you said, about a billion dollars in cuts, some under Schwarzenegger, most under Jerry Brown. Is that a failure of someone’s leadership, or a failure to appreciate the university? I mean, we see prison spending going up, spending for other things. Why is support for UC going down the way it has?
YUDOF: Part of it was we were part of the discretionary budget. We don’t have matching funds in Washington. Part of it is there is more skepticism toward higher education. Part of it is that when you are having to cut human services, like dental care for indigent young people, it really puts it to you, because people are suffering here and now, and education is more of a long-term investment. I think it’s partly the demographics. We in California have more Hispanic kids. That’s the demographic I’m most concerned about. Students of color who deserve the sort of break Errol Warren got. But it’s an aging population that votes, worries more about Social Security and health care and a lockbox, and I think that the taxpayers, they should be saying those Hispanic kids are our kids, even if they are not in our family, and we should tax ourselves to pay for our education and not necessarily burden the families with debt and all the rest of it to get them through.
SHAFER: There was a point in early 2011 where the amount of funds from tuition surpassed the amount of funds from the state.
YUDOF: This is the first time in our history the amount of funds for tuition, not by a huge margin, but significant margin, exceeded the state contribution, this was sort of at the bottom of the trough.
SHAFER: And in your statement you said that this is a sad day for California. What were you thinking when you wrote that?
YUDOF: It was: I don’t think education is a private good. It’s a hybrid. If you get a good education and you get a good job, bully for you. Good for your family, good for their health care, good for your income, good for your children, but it’s also great when we turn out people who are productive and pay taxes and people who do not commit crimes and people who create works of art and write wonderful books, and people who are doing research on alternative fuels and all the rest. So, it has aspects of a public good and aspects of private good. And the more you treat it simply as a private good and say, ‘Hey we don’t care if you want a good education, it’s all up to you,’ I think that’s a pity. I think people ought to pay something. I am not a free higher education person because I think there is too much of a risk that people will slough it off. But on the other hand, I think we need ample financial aid and I would like to keep tuition down where we can. The final thing I want to say about that, that tuition hikes tend to hurt the middle class more because if you’re affluent you can write a check, and, frankly, if you’re under $80,000 we can take care of you.
SHAFER: In terms of diversity, you’ve had to live with Prop. 209, which was passed by voters in 1996, and we’ve seen the numbers of especially Latino and African-American students below where they were back then, and especially at campuses like UCLA and Berkeley. What impact has all that had on the school, and what difference does it make?
YUDOF: I think it’s had differential impact. We’ve have campuses like Riverside and Santa Barbara and Merced that are really diverse by almost any measure, but at the more competitive institutions, it’s been more of a problem. But I think it’s been negative, and we’ve told the Supreme Court that. We’ve said affirmative action would be a useful tool. But my theory is a just society does not allocate things by race and ethnicity. We need Hispanics and Asians and Native Americans and African-Americans on our police forces, we need them in our boardrooms, in our banks. We need them in political office. Every aspect of American life ought to be integrated and power ought to be distributed, and wealth, across all these groups probably never evenly but at least on a nondiscriminatory basis. And education is how you get there. And we’re not getting there yet.
SHAFER: Any regrets at all around how the university handled Berkeley or Davis -- the Occupy protests?
YUDOF: I think the chancellor could tell you and others would say, ‘I wish we’d handled it better on the Davis campus.’ And I wish they had. It’s always dangerous to speak for Berkeley. I think there’s some at Berkeley that would say, ‘I wish we’d handled some of those protests differently,’ and I agree with them. By the way, I don’t want to overstate this. There were a lot of provocations, but at the end of the day, the university administration is supposed to be the adult in the room. So, I’m not saying they weren’t provoked. I mean, I was locked in a building for hours at Riverside with a riotous crowd outside, so I don’t see everyone else as innocent. But at the end of the day, the people of California rightly expect us to handle it well, and they shouldn’t be blaming the students or the people coming in to protest. They judge us more, and that’s OK. We could have done better.
SHAFER: I wonder if you feel that the university is a better place than it was when you got here?
YUDOF: You know, I think it is a better place, and it depends on your model -- look, it’s not an era in which I announced $50 million programs. I consider the first victory as holding the place together. No mass exodus of faculty, we continue in the rankings to be – seven of our institutions are in the top 50 universities in the world. And we’ve improved the graduation rates. We’ve reduced the time it takes to get a degree. I’m not saying it’s a sea change, but I think we kept it on the right trajectory. And last thing I would emphasize is the relationship between the Board of Regents and the president was very uneasy when I arrived, and I think the relationship is really very solid and very positive today. That will help Secretary Napolitano be a success here.
SHAFER: You are going to have some extra time – I know you’re going to go to teaching now at the law school. What are you going to do with that extra time besides relax?
YUDOF: Well I think right now I’m in a mode – I’ve said yes too often in my life and overschedule myself. Right now, for a little bit, I’m taking some time to unpack the boxes and figure out what I want to do.
SHAFER: President Yudof, thanks so much for your service to California, and thanks for chatting.
YUDOF: Scott, thanks very much. Enjoyed it.