Yudof steerspath from Lone Star toNorth Star

Chris Hamilton

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part weekly series that examines University President Mark Yudof’s record at the University of Texas-Austin and his plans for the University.

AUSTIN, Texas — Those who worked with Mark Yudof at the University of Texas-Austin share a mantra when discussing their former colleague: He was a doer.
Over and over, his former associates extol him and his accomplishments from 26 years at the 49,000-student university. And Yudof is putting the skills and ideas he honed in the Lone Star State to immediate use — but this time in the North Star State and at Minnesota’s flagship university.
Modified transplants from his Longhorn days include: efforts to raise faculty salaries; private donations and legislative dollars; and renovations to classrooms and undergraduate services.
For 13 years, Yudof was dean of the law school and then executive vice president and provost in Austin. The numerous programs he initiated, political relationships he nurtured and the legislative funds he sought with dexterity played a crucial role in acquiring his job at the University.
In summer 1996, an 11-member presidential search committee designed a set of criteria for a University president. They exhaustively researched Yudof’s history. And after Yudof’s competition dropped out, the University Board of Regents privately interviewed Yudof for several days before giving him the job.
But those who hired Yudof said recycling Austin programs at the University was not a prerequisite in his hiring.
“I don’t know if we got so specific,” said Regent William Peterson. “But certainly we needed somebody who was ready to make this University move forward. I thought he fit the mold very well.”
Patrice Morrow, a University ecology professor and member of the search committee, concurs with Peterson. But she was aware of Yudof’s adeptness in fund-raising and experience with the legislature — two important criteria for a new president.
“He certainly didn’t have any aversion at all to being a cheerleader for the University,” Morrow said.
And he said he didn’t mind heading the pep squad in Texas.

An adept fund-raiser
When Yudof began as dean of the law school in 1984, its endowment was $23 million. The Austin university’s regents decided to begin a campaign intended to raise money for all colleges. In a 10-year span, Yudof raised an additional $65 million. By the end of that span, the law school had more endowed chairs than professors.
“Yudof undoubtedly raised more than anybody else, any other dean, any other college,” said Bill Livingston, senior vice president at Austin. “He was very good at raising money, probably the best ever in the University of Texas.”
Among others, Livingston said Yudof’s engaging personality, dogged attention to maintaining relationships with alumni and quick wit helped him procure dollars from pockets and purses.
However, his personality is not without its detractors. What some see as wit, others view as sarcasm.
“When I first met him, I thought he was a pompous ass,” said Alan Cline, an Austin computer sciences professor and member of the school’s faculty council. “But in time, I grew to like him.”
Yudof had some difficulties with students’ first impressions in Minnesota. When interviewing last year, Yudof quickly won over every constituency group except the students. After time with student leaders, a former president of the Minnesota Student Association said he lacked vision, charisma and passion.
“It was much more of a problem with his style and ideology,” said Matt Musel, the student representative on the selection committee. “But his record was impeccable.”
Yudof later said he smarted from the meeting and blamed his demeanor on fatigue.
Those who know Yudof understand how he can be misunderstood during an initial meeting.
“He is an intellectual and very, very bright, and those are things that can distance himself from people,” said Margaret Surghue Carlson, executive director of the University Alumni Association.

An orange-filled closet
She said that since moving to Minnesota, Yudof has tried hard to form tighter bonds with the people of the state. Carlson cited his reputation as a pancake aficionado and tendency to be replete with maroon and gold at public functions as ways he makes himself seem “real to us.” She added that his closet is probably full of burnt orange from his Texas days.
If recent donation dollars are an accurate indicator, many take an instant liking to the president. For fiscal year 1997, the University Foundation saw record contributions of $107 million.
Gerald Fischer, the president of the University’s central fund-raising arm, said along with a strong stock market over the last three years, Yudof’s presence has increased donation sizes.
Carlson said the president’s involvement in the “U and You and Yudof” Annual Fund campaign has helped generate record numbers for the month of December, which haven’t yet been made public. She predicted another monumental year for University fund-raising.
Robert Berdahl, chancellor of the University of California-Berkeley, was president at Austin and Yudof’s boss. In the last six months, he said Berkeley has seen a record $100 million in private dollars roll into their coffers. He, too, places an emphasis on the recent strong economy for the increase. But he jokingly gave himself a congratulatory nod, too.
“I’m gonna take credit for it here, just as he’s gonna take credit for it there,” Berdahl said.
The Berkeley head also said his experience with Yudof left him impressed by his relationship-building skills. Yudof’s competence and intelligence are driving forces in the administrator’s ability to raise funds, Berdahl said.
“People have confidence that the University’s being well-run,” Berdahl said.
Yudof’s ability to instill confidence with the people of Minnesota and legislators will be the key to ensuring fulfillment of the University’s capital budget request this session. Yudof is leading the charge, with the support of Gov. Arne Carlson, to procure $248.9 million for system-wide building renovations, faculty raises and new programs and construction.
But when dealing with the Texas legislature, Yudof’s competence and intelligence often wasn’t enough to increase state funding for Austin.
While Yudof was well-known and respected by legislators, he still witnessed the state’s funding for Austin decline from 45 percent in the late ’80s to 26 percent last year.
But as part of a national trend, public funding for universities is declining nationwide, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Yudof was not put off by the task in Minnesota, where 40 percent of the University’s funding derives from the state.
“I think this is a more progressive state, with more shared governance than Texas,” he said.
As chief academic officer, it was not Yudof’s responsibility to lobby the Texas Legislature, but Berdahl brought Yudof with him for presentations. Berdahl described the dealings with the legislature as “extraordinarily frustrating,” but applauded Yudof’s participation.

A familiar face
Yudof, the lawyer and expert in public and higher education finance, was no stranger to the Texas capital and its inhabitants. He sat on the lieutenant governor’s commission on K-12 education during the early ’90s.
While dean of the law school, he was often asked to testify before the legislature on legal and college issues. This included the federal court’s Hopwood decision, which effectively banned affirmative action and minority scholarships in Texas. It was his aggressive efforts to increase law-school minority enrollment which brought on the case.
Lobbying by a dean is prohibited by Texas law, but that didn’t stop Yudof from maintaining a strong informal rapport with influential state figures.
“Mark Yudof was very good at that,” Livingston said. “He knew so many people there since it was dominated by lawyers, and many of them graduated from our law school.”
But when efforts to increase faculty salaries in the Legislature grew fruitless after three tries in as many sessions, Austin administrators sought the private route.
Yudof sat in on the ground floor of planning a $1 billion, seven-year capital campaign. Money from the campaign is geared mostly toward increasing faculty endowments and undergraduate scholarships.
John Gilbert, a chemistry professor and chairman of the Austin faculty council, said Yudof was a major player in discussions about the priorities of the campaign.
“The money will target midcareer faculty, who are on the way up, to make them as happy as possible,” Gilbert said.
Minnesota faces similar problems. In a 1996 ranking of faculty salaries at the top 30 research universities, the National Research Council placed the University at 28th. Austin ranked 24th.
To remain competitive for top professors and satisfy the ones they already have, plans to increase salaries began under former University President Nils Hasselmo’s administration.
But it was under the recent guidance of Yudof that a request for higher salaries took off. In the supplemental budget request, the University will ask the Legislature for $13 million in recurring funds to help raise the pay of faculty by 2.5 percent each year. An additional $13 million will be supplied by the school.
As a result of the spending plan, Yudof said he hoped to bring University faculty salaries to the middle range of the national rankings.
He didn’t think his travails in Austin had anything to do with him trying to increase faculty salaries at the University, Yudof said.
“It was sort of in the air here,” he said, adding that he has no formula for what to initiate at the University.
But an idea that was inspired by Austin was a plan to spend $4 million next year to renovate classrooms around the Twin Cities campus.
At Austin in 1996, Yudof began a two-year, $2 million program to paint rooms, replace worn floors, fix lighting and buy new window shades, blackboards and chairs. In all, 155 classrooms are expected to undergo the changes.
The Minnesota version — a part of its supplemental budget request — will target a similar, yet-undetermined number of classrooms. The extent of the renovations would also be comparable.
Orlyn Miller, University senior planner for Facilities Management, said the classrooms will generally be in buildings not scheduled for major renovations. The majority of the rooms are in the Mall and Knoll areas. Peik, Burton, and Lind halls are some buildings with rooms under consideration.
“The intention is to touch as many as possible,” Miller said.
The renovations are intended to appease faculty — and students.
“People say it’s just cosmetic,” Yudof said, “but it’s good for teachers’ and students’ morale. We’re trying to create a certain pride.”
Addressing students’ morale with greater focus may be on the horizon for Yudof. He has hinted at creating a freshman convocation, more accessible student advising and increasing online services. All of these ideas have a history in Texas.
Yudof is doing again.