University of California President Mark Yudof is stepping down from the position he's held for the last five years as head of the prestigious 10-campus system to assume a new job teaching law at UC Berkeley.
Yudof, 68, announced Friday that he will resign Aug. 31 and attributed the decision to "taxing health issues."
"Though these challenges have been largely overcome, I feel it is time to make a change in my professional lifestyle," he said in a statement.
Sherry Lansing, chairwoman of UC's governing Board of Regents, described Yudof as a visionary leader and said she was devastated to lose him in that role. But, she said, it was understandable that he wants to step down, given recent gallbladder problems plus a broken shoulder and chronic bronchitis.
"I did everything I possibly could to change his mind, but I guess health issues trump everything," Lansing said.
Yudof, a constitutional scholar who had headed university systems in Minnesota and Texas, led UC through a period of steep budget cuts and enormous tumult, with faculty outraged during a year of furloughs and students protesting soaring tuition. Demonstrations rocked several campuses, and tensions reached a crescendo in 2011 when a UC Davis police officer pepper-sprayed protesters, inspiring global outrage.
Tuition rose 65 percent during his years at the helm of UC, and he urged the board to drop the misleading term "fees."
His $591,084 salary was a frequent source of anger for students and unions.
"Unfortunately, under President Yudof's leadership, students and workers unfairly suffered," state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said in a statement Friday.
But Yudof also championed financial aid, launching a marketing campaign to inform students that grants covered tuition for students with family incomes under $80,000.
"None of us liked the tuition increases we had to do, but he coupled that with increasing financial aid to make sure it was not going to have an impact for low-income kids," said Regent Russ Gould.
Yudof traveled to high schools in poor areas of California including Fresno, Bakersfield and the Sacramento neighborhood of Del Paso Heights to urge students from low-income families to apply to the university better known for educating the state's elites.
Applications to UC have grown steadily, with the newest figures released Friday showing a record number of freshman applications for the fall. Applications from California high school seniors are up 6.2 percent from last year. Those from out of state and international students are also up by 14.9 percent and 34.5 percent, respectively. For the first time, Latinos make up the biggest portion of Californians applying to UC.
Yudof oversaw a change to UC's admissions policy that led to more applications being read by humans and fewer decisions being made by a computer program. UC also launched a program to help high school teachers design classes that blend academic and workplace skills.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg praised Yudof for "bridging the gap between secondary schools, higher education and the working world by fostering stronger ties between classroom and careers."
Yudof championed a program to cut $500 million from UC's spending on administration and spearheaded a plan to reduce retirement benefits for new employees. He preached the importance of advocacy and made many trips to the Capitol, reportedly chatting in Yiddish with Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, who issued a statement praising Yudof's "thoughtful and engaging" style.
In recent months Yudof embraced proposals to expand online education after Gov. Jerry Brown urged UC to explore cost-cutting measures while proposing a budget that increased its funding by $250 million. Brown issued a statement Friday saying Yudof "effectively dealt with some difficult problems. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him."
Yudof's resignation letter said the time is right for UC to seek new leadership because budget woes of recent years appear to be coming to an end.
"When I arrived in 2008, the economy had begun to unravel and state coffers were tumbling deep into the red," he wrote. "With its budget slashed, the University was presented with one of the most severe challenges in its history. 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."
The salary Yudof will receive as a UC Berkeley law professor has not yet been set, said university spokeswoman Dianne Klein.