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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

Under his Irvine chancellorship, Drake laid the groundwork for the campus to become a Hispanic Serving Institution, qualifying it for federal grants to support Latino students. Irvine is now the top UC choice for Latino freshman applicants.

Drake continued his commitment to diversity at Ohio State. Under his tenure, the university boosted the number of students who are low-income, underrepresented minorities and the first in their families to attend college. Black students, however, remain underrepresented at Ohio State, accounting for 6.8% of enrolled students in a state where Black residents make up 13% of the population. That's a larger gap than at UC campuses, where Black students account for about 4% of enrollment compared with the state's proportion of Black residents at 6%.

At Ohio State, Drake also worked to lower the cost of attendance and increase financial aid -- issues that loom large for UC students. He introduced a financial model that raises costs for tuition, mandatory fees, housing and dining once for incoming freshmen, then locks them in for four years. Under his tenure, Ohio State boosted financial aid to low- and moderate-income Ohioans by more than $200 million since 2015, twice his initial target, and increased grants and scholarships.

He is also credited with helping Ohio State hit record highs in applications, graduation rates and sponsored research awards. Last year, he announced a $4.5 billion fundraising campaign, the largest goal in the school's history.

While some faculty at both Ohio State and UC Irvine said he was not the most visible or hands-on academic leader, he was popular with students. Alexis Gomes, an incoming fifth-year Ohio State student in neuroscience, said students appreciated his initiatives to cut fees, lower textbook costs and provide all students with an iPad, Apple pencil and a notetaking app.

Drake steps into the top UC job at a time of financial distress. The COVID-19 pandemic has cost the university system $1.2 billion in increased costs and lost revenues from March to the end of April, and faces potential state budget cuts. At the same time, UC regents have pulled a proposal for now to raise tuition in light of pandemic-caused economic distress.

UC veterans are hopeful his political savvy and personable manner will help secure more funding and improve relations with Sacramento, and they point to his success in winning approval for a UC Irvine law school in 2007 after a two-decade battle. They also say his success at mending fences with Erwin Chemerinsky over the law school deanship -- Drake offered him the job, withdrew the offer, then restored it amid a national political furor -- illustrates his ability to recognize his mistakes, apologize and move on.

Chemerinsky went on to co-teach a UC Irvine undergraduate class with Drake on civil rights, music and the U.S. Supreme Court. He said he would be "thrilled" with a Drake presidency.


"He has a wonderful combination of warmth and rigor," said Chemerinsky, who now heads UC Berkeley's law school. "All of the skills that you would want in a university president, he has them."

Drake weathered controversies at Ohio State as well, including the firing of a popular marching band director over what a university investigation found to be the band's "sexualized culture."

At UC, other top issues Drake will immediately face include managing campus fall reopenings during the pandemic, rising demands to defund campus police and calls to better support Black students triggered by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Drake was born in New York City and raised in New Jersey and Sacramento as the son of a doctor and a social worker. He attended Stanford University before moving to UC San Francisco for medical school. A music fan, he plays the guitar and is an avid cyclist. He is married to Brenda Drake, an attorney, and has two sons and four grandchildren.

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