SAN FRANCISCO — University of California President Mark Yudof said Friday he plans to step down as head of one of the nation’s leading systems of higher education, citing a “spate of taxing health issues.”
Yudof, 68, said he will end his tenure on Aug. 31, about five years after he became the 19th president of the UC system. The former law professor plans to return to teaching law on the UC Berkeley campus.
“The prior 18 months brought a spate of taxing health issues,” Yudof said in a statement. “Though these challenges have been largely overcome, I feel it is time to make a change in my professional lifestyle.”
The UC Board of Regents will create a committee to search for Yudof’s successor, UC officials said.
“He’s irreplaceable. We are so sad,” board Chair Sherry Lansing told The Associated Press. “I’ve been trying to change his mind for several months and even went to see his wife to try to change his mind.”
Yudof has guided the 10-campus system through a tumultuous period, when deep cuts in state funding led to sharp tuition hikes, staff furloughs, course cutbacks and rowdy campus protests that sometimes turned violent.
Lansing said Yudof helped UC maintain high academic quality and student access by launching an aggressive fundraising campaign and expanding financial aid to low- and middle-income students.
“Because of his leadership, he’s leaving the university in far better shape than when he got there,” Lansing said.
But state Sen. Leland Lee, a persistent critic of UC’s tuition and executive pay policies, welcomed news of Yudof’s departure, saying that “students and workers unfairly suffered while top executives got wealthier” under his leadership.
“I hope we finally begin a new chapter at the University of California,” Lee, D-San Francisco, said in a statement.
After several years of budget cuts, the university’s finances are expected to stabilize. In his 2013-14 budget, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed increasing state funding for UC by $250 million, a boost made possible by the November passage of his Proposition 30 tax initiative.
On Friday, university officials announced that the UC system received a record number of applications for undergraduate admission, showing strong demand from students inside and outside California.
“Beyond personal considerations, this also appears to be an apt time for the university to bring in fresh leadership,” Yudof said. “Now, it appears the storm has been weathered. We are not fully in the clear, but we are much closer than we were even a few months ago.”
UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi — whom Yudof hired and steadfastly supported in the wake of the Nov. 18, 2011, pepper-spraying of protesters by campus police — praised Yudof for leading UC through difficult times.
“He worked extremely hard to provide financial stability to the university, to raise funds for the Blue and Gold program that provides scholarships for students and to help the university retain its excellence and its worldwide reputation,” she said.
The chairman of the systemwide Academic Senate, a UCD professor of chemical engineering and materials science and food science and technology, may well have worked more closely with Yudof than any other faculty member.
“Through his efforts, our retirement system was set on a trajectory that will assure the futures of our current employees and those employees still to be hired,” Bob Powell wrote in an email message. “He completely redefined the way that our campuses are funded through transparent and fair budgeting systems. He provided critical support for the faculty proposal to change the eligibility criteria for undergraduate admission. He has stood by the Academic Senate at crucial times. And he leaves at a hopeful time for UC. The proposed governor’s budget is a huge first step toward putting UC on solid financial footing.”
Added Powell, “I cannot imagine that anyone could have done better.”
In June 2008, Yudof replaced Robert Dynes as leader of the UC system, which has five medical centers, three national laboratories and 220,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
Before joining UC, the Philadelphia native was chancellor of the University of Texas system from 2002 to 2008 and president of the University of Minnesota system from 1997 to 2002.
Yudof has received an annual base salary of $591,000 since his appointment in 2008. UC Berkeley will set his new salary when he joins the law school faculty. He is expected to receive an annual pension of at least $230,000 after he retires from UC, university officials said.
Yudof will be the third head of a California higher-education system to step down in one year. Jack Scott was replaced by Brice Harris as chancellor of California Community Colleges in September, and Charles Reed was succeeded by Tim White as chancellor of the California State University system in December.
Assembly Speaker John Pérez, who is a member of the UC Board of Regents, said in a statement that Yudof “has been an exceptional leader, particularly during a difficult period in the history of the UC.”
— Enterprise staff writer Cory Golden contributed to this report.