Wedged among the usual academic honors and awards in the official biography of Mark Yudof, unanimously chosen by a search committee as the next president of the University of California system, are some uncommon entries.
Yudof proclaims that he and his wife, Judy, are the co-recipients of a Jewish National Fund Tree of Life Award, and that he served on the board of directors of the Jewish Children’s Regional Service, and on the B’nai B’rith Advisory Council in Austin, Texas.
Yudof, who was lured from his post as chancellor of the University of Texas, was expected to be confirmed by the U.C. Regents on March 27 (later than j.’s press deadline). As such, he will be based in the president’s office in Oakland, taking the helm of the world’s leading public research university, with 10 campuses — including Berkeley, Davis and Santa Cruz — about 220,000 students and an $18 billion budget.
Even more impressive is the Jewish résumé of Judy Yudof. She is the immediate past international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, representing 760 synagogues, the first woman to hold the post in the organization’s 89-year history.
When she assumed the presidency, she bluntly told reporters, “I didn’t decide to run because I’m a woman, but because I have the leadership skills.”
She currently serves on the council of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and on the international board of Hillel.
Three years ago, the couple gave $50,000 to the United Synagogue’s Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem. The Yudofs have two children, Seth and Samara.
Mark Yudof, 63, was born in Philadelphia and started his academic career in 1971 as an assistant professor of law at the University of Texas, Austin. During 26 years as a teacher and administrator, he earned a reputation as an authority on constitutional law, freedom of expression and education law.
After a five-year stint as president of the University of Minnesota, Yudof returned to the University of Texas in 2002, this time as chancellor of the 15-campus system.
In a 2003 interview in the Dallas Morning News, he is characterized as “an energizer, outgoing, and at meetings he rarely lets a moment pass without a quip.”
As he described himself, “I am what I am. I have my weird sense of humor and I’m proud of it. What I’ve found works best for me is transparency, being direct and being honest.”
Yudof is not above poking fun at himself, pointing to his habit of getting lost and his obsessive love of pancakes.
Even as chancellor, he has continued teaching classes and likes to open the session by asking students, “How did the university oppress you this week?” Off-campus, he has lectured on Maimonides at local synagogues.
Along with 10 other American university heads, he visited Israel last July, where he proposed joint research between Israeli and American universities.
He recently reported on his trip at the U.T. Hillel center, where, as “a longtime supporter of Israel,” he advocated strong academic ties with Israel and urged students to study in the Jewish state, according to a report by Dailytexasonline.com.
A recent phone call to the Hillel center in Austin was answered by Sam Ellison, a junior and public affairs chair for the campus chapter of Texans for Israel.
Ellison said that he had met Yudof during their joint involvement with the campus White Rose Society, dedicated to studies of genocides.
Yudof will be the second Jewish president in the 140-year history of the University of California. The first was David Saxon, who served from 1975 to 1983.
As U.C. president, Yudof will consult frequently with Gene Block, who took over as chancellor of UCLA last year.
Block was a visible figure in the Jewish community in his previous position as provost at the University of Virginia. He has been less involved since coming to Los Angeles, but he and his family attended High Holy Days services at UCLA Hillel last year.