U president takes job as Texas chancellor

Brad Unangst

The Lone Star State has lassoed Mark Yudof from Minnesota.

After five years as University president, Yudof said Friday that he would accept an offer to become the next chancellor of the University of Texas System.

At a news conference, Yudof said the decision was “excruciating” but that the “emotional tug” of Texas, where he lived for 26 years and served as a law dean and provost, was too great.

“It’s where our family and many other friends are,” Yudof said. “It is home for us in a way.”

The UT Board of Regents unanimously approved Yudof as the final candidate for the position during a special meeting Friday.

In a telephone news conference Friday morning, UT Regents Chairman Charles Miller said Yudof met all criteria for the chancellor position, including having a strategic vision for the universities and public policy experience.

“He has a distinguished academic background. The administrative posts he’s had, those in Texas and those in Minnesota – he’s been very successful,” Miller said. “He does think strategically, and that’s a very important ingredient for a big system in a big state like this.”

Texas law requires a 21-day period before a formal and legal offer can be made. During the next three weeks, Yudof will conduct a series of meetings with university and community leaders, Texas officials said.

Meeting dates have not been set, but they are expected to start next week, said Monty Jones, associate director of public affairs for the University of Texas System. Yudof will likely start his new job in late summer.

Yudof said shaky finances and a series of athletics scandals weren’t major factors in his decision.

“It is an intensely personal decision for Judy and me,” he said. “It wasn’t personalities or politics. I was really torn primarily because of relationships.”

Yudof said he was leaving some unfinished business at the University but highlighted improving the undergraduate experience, cleaning up the campus and identifying new interdisciplinary fields such as genomics, along with improvements to the Academic Health Center and Medical School as major accomplishments of his five years heading the institution.

“With continued attention to our strengths and dedication to constant improvement, I think the momentum can be sustained,” Yudof said. “I really do have confidence that this institution will continue to thrive.”

UT officials said they hope Yudof, as chancellor, can do the same in Austin.

The UT chancellor oversees students, administration and staff in nine academic institutions and six health institutions in the system. The chancellor interacts with elected officials, donors and professionals. The 15-campus system enrolls more than 160,000 students and has an operating budget of $6.43 billion.

In comparison, Yudof currently presides over four campuses with approximately 60,000 students and a $1.8 billion operating budget.

University officials said they were disappointed but not surprised by Yudof’s decision. Regents and state legislators last week launched a campaign to keep Yudof in Minnesota.

“Mark has touched every part of our state Ö the disappointment is in the communities, among the hundreds that have sent e-mails or called (Yudof) and among the many more people throughout the state of Minnesota who have valued the leadership that Mark has given to the University of Minnesota,” Board of Regents chairwoman Maureen Reed said.

The next step

The University will act quickly to fill Yudof’s position, with the regents identifying an interim president and starting the
nationwide search for a new president, Reed said.

Yudof, Reed and Regents Vice Chairman Robert Bergland will meet Tuesday to begin making plans for the University’s transition, Bergland said.

The trio hopes to discuss how Yudof’s decision will affect the University’s open administrative positions, he said.

Those positions include executive vice president and provost, athletics director for the combined men’s and women’s athletics departments, and deans for the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, Medical School and the College of Natural Resources.

“Those searches in all cases have a final list of candidates,” Yudof said. “My expectation is those appointments will get made.”

But search committee members said they still are unsure of how Yudof’s departure will affect the appointments.

Institute of Technology Dean H. Ted Davis, co-chairman for the provost search committee, said three candidates were passed on to Yudof for approval. He said he assumes the process is somewhere in review.

Athletics director search committee members have been e-mailing each other since Friday, but are waiting for Chief of Staff Tonya Moten Brown to return from vacation before continuing discussions.

“I guess we’ll find out more this week,” Gophers men’s hockey coach Don Lucia said. “The question I’m going to have is, who’s going to hire the A.D.?”

Other coaches were concerned Yudof’s decision will hinder the process.

“It will definitely slow down the athletic director search,” Gophers men’s baseball coach John Anderson said.

University officials said Yudof must give 90 days notice before leaving. His current contract expires June 30, 2004. If he leaves earlier, Yudof could forfeit between 50 percent and 60 percent of his $6,203 per month pension.

Yudof currently earns $350,000 per year. As UT chancellor, he would receive cash terms of approximately $600,000 annually, in addition to benefits such as housing, Miller said.

Yudof said Friday that his decision was not about money.

He said Texas contacted him about the chancellor position two years ago, but he withdrew his name early in the process because he felt he had not spent enough time at the University.

“I had too many things on the agenda. So I sort of wrote (Texas) off,” Yudof said.

This time, the appeal of returning home was too strong.

“It’s a sort of intuitive sort of thing. Sort of how strong the siren’s song became to return,” he said.

Certain aspects of the UT system have changed, Yudof said, which made the position more appealing, but he declined to elaborate.

University officials were hesitant to call Yudof’s decision to leave an end of an era.

“He made his choice,” Bergland said. “Life goes on. We’re grateful to Yudof and his wife for what they’ve done for the University. We just wish him well.”

Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]