Yudof’s Second Job as a Stand-Up Comic

By Scott Roeder | Staff Photographer

By Scott Roeder | Staff Photographer

It’s tough not to feel at least a little sorry for Mark Yudof these days. The current President of the UC system has become something of a scapegoat, taking the brunt of the blame for everything going wrong.

In early September, an overwhelming 96 percent of 10,000 UC employees approved a vote of no confidence in President Yudof. The president of the UC-AFT, a union, Bob Samuels, accused him of adding to the “pile of half-truths, untruths and misrepresentation.” He has been called “culpably cavalier” and “shockingly irresponsible.” Many have even called for his resignation, causing the chant, “Lay-off Yudof,” to rise in popularity at protest rallies.

A lot of this criticism has been undeserved. The embattled President of the UC System has only held the office since March of 2008, while the budget cuts and fee increases themselves have been rising steadily over the past twenty years. By the time the Board of Regents approved Yudof’s appointment, the system was already in crisis. In fact, Mark Yudof was specifically recruited in a nationwide search due to his prior successes at the University of Texas and the University of Minnesota, where he fought successfully to increase state funding.

Many of the forces behind the current crisis are completely out of Yudof’s control. The state, facing a projected $7 billion deficit next year, has passed the gap onto the University of California. The UC system must now find a way to close the $535 million shortfall for the 2009-2010 school year. Yudof has to find some way to close these gaps. While many disagree with the specifics of his actions, most people are able to understand the challenges Yudof faces in office.

While there are many things that are clearly beyond Yudof’s control, he does have complete control over one thing — his personal conduct as the leader of the largest and most prestigious public university system in the world.

In last week’s New York Times magazine, a publication with a circulation rate of 1,623,697, Mark Yudof gave an interview that sparked serious concerns amongst students, faculty and others in the UC community regarding his leadership ability.

The interview, entitled “Big Man On Campus,” painted a picture of a man who remains largely disconnected from the concerns and worries of the very people he was hired to represent. He comes off as blithe and borderline callous about the sacrifices that many have had to make.

There was a blatant disregard, and borderline indifference to the employees who have been laid off or furloughed. There was no sensitivity shown to the students who are currently trying to figure out how to pay for the latest fee increase.

He gave off no spark of leadership, no glimmer of hope and absolutely no indication that the people of California could count on him to defend the UC system during a time of crisis.

Instead, President Yudof compared being UC president to managing a cemetery.

He responded to a question about why he was in education by offhandedly calling it “all an accident” and added that he had expected to be a lawyer instead. When asked why the administrators of public universities (including himself) earned more than the President of the United States ($400,000), Yudof said he would consider taking a lower salary if the package included Air Force One and the White House.

All in all, Yudof came off as facetious and flippant.

By the middle of last week, the article had become one the most talked about articles, prompting many shocked, hurt and angry reactions over the Internet and throughout the halls of campus departments across the state.

Surely, many thought, the President of the UC system would know better than to give his detractors such excellent ammunition. Surely, he would have more consideration for the UC community.

At a recent Question & Answer session for student reporters held at UC Irvine over the weekend, one participant asked Yudof about the article. Yudof simply said that he had only been responding to the circumstances. A zany reporter was interviewing him, so he gave zany answers.

Mr. Yudof, we are not laughing.

The University of California does not need a stand-up comedian – we need a leader. We need to know that you, as the “big man on campus,” understand the costs of every cut, every reduction and every fee increase. We need someone with the vision and the passion to pull the UC community through the biggest crisis we have faced since the founding of the system. The issues are serious, and as the head of this system, you need to take them seriously.

Read excerpts from the New York Times Magazine interview, “Big Man on Campus,” at the opinion section’s blog, the OpinionEater at newuniversity.org.

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