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Michael V. Drake expected to be named UC president, first Black leader in system's 152-year history

Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Michael V. Drake, a national champion for access and equity who previously headed Ohio State University and the University of California, Irvine, is poised to be named the new president of the University of California and first Black leader in the system's 152-year history.

The UC Board of Regents was set to vote on the selection Tuesday afternoon, seizing a historic opportunity to hire a person of color to head a system whose 285,000 students are now majority nonwhite as the nation grapples with a sweeping racial reckoning. If approved, he will succeed President Janet Napolitano, who will step down Aug. 1 after seven years.

Drake, who will turn 70 on Thursday, would bring leadership experience, academic credentials, political savvy and personal qualities to that position at a time of deep challenges facing the UC system.

He would oversee the nation's most complex public research university system -- a $39.8 billion operation of 10 campuses, five medical centers and three national laboratories -- as it confronts a global pandemic, financial uncertainty and demands to further diversify campuses and defund UC police.

"Michael Drake is a spectacular choice for the University of California," said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, which represents more than 1,700 colleges and universities. "He has proven himself to be a visionary and effective leader in every role he's taken on, from the University of California to Ohio State to national roles in leading associations, including the NCAA."

Unlike Napolitano, a former Homeland Security secretary and Arizona governor who came to the job with no UC or academic leadership experience, Drake has spent nearly four decades in the California university system. He earned his medical degree in ophthalmology at UC San Francisco, joined the faculty in 1979 and became the UC vice president for health affairs in 2000. He was named UC Irvine chancellor in 2005 and served there for nine years before heading to Ohio State in 2014.


At the same time, Drake has served as board chairman for the NCAA, the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

Drake emerged as a rumored top candidate immediately after Napolitano announced she was stepping down. Many UC veterans supported the idea, believing he could both reassert the university's national leadership role and attend to its particular issues, in partnership with the system's uniquely empowered faculty.

"Michael is as poised as anyone can be to be successful," said George Blumenthal, a former UC Santa Cruz chancellor who now heads the UC Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education. "He's been around the block. He knows higher education well and the UC system well."

A hallmark of Drake's long career has been widening access to higher education for students from diverse racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds. As vice president for UC health affairs, he increased the diversity of newly minted medical professionals through a program that offered incentives for them to work in underserved communities. He also worked with UC Irvine to launch a groundbreaking program offering a joint medical degree and master's in public health or other fields to develop a pipeline of "physician leaders" to serve the unique health needs of the Latino community.


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