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For flapjack-loving former U president Yudof, it’s now mostly flaps

The once-popular pancake-munching leader has found a very different reception in cash-strapped California.
By David Brauer

At the dawn of the last decade, Mark Yudof was the popular, pancake-loving president of the University of Minnesota. His tenure went well enough that he was lured back to his former employer, the University of Texas System, as its chancellor, and in 2008, Yudof ascended to the University of California’s presidency.

But things have not gone well for the Flapjack Crackerjack, according to a story in the Jan. 4 New Yorker. Cali correspondent Tad Friend describes Yudof as “the university’s deeply unpopular president,” the subject of repeated protests in a nearly bankrupt state. That’s less shocking when you consider his plan to increase in-state undergrad fees 32 percent, to $10,302 a year.

By the way, the same fees at the University of Minnesota are $10,320 this year.

The New Yorker piece is only available to subscribers online (though an abstract is available), but here is a segment Yudof friends and foes will surely enjoy:

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In September, Mark Yudof had been quoted in the Times Magazine saying that “being president of the University of California is like being manager of a cemetery: there are many people under you, but no one is listening.” U.C. has 229,000 students and 180,000 faculty and staff, and the corpse analogy infuriated many of them. It also provided protesters with a handy symbolic vocabulary. On this, the protesters’ eighth visit, the plan was to build a mock cemetery on Yudof’s lawn. (The president had prudently gone out to dinner.) Campus police were blocking the driveway, so the protesters arranged their tombstones on a nearby hillside chanting “Whose house? Our house!” as local TV crews filmed.

Yudof, a roundish 65-year-old who swims a bit in his pin-striped suits, keeps a photo of his doppelganger Winston Churchill on his desk. Like Churchill facing the Battle of Britain, he is digging in to fight: he has cut the notoriously bloated office of the president by 30 percent and proposed the federal government support public universities with a program as vigorous as the GI Bill. Yudof is by many accounts a skillful manager and a good listener, but his vision of the university falls something short of Churchillian. He told me that he sometimes imagines a Super Bowl commercial for higher ed: “It would start off with someone who woke up in the morning and said, ‘Thank God for my pacemaker,’ turned on the television set to watch some program in color, sat down and had his Wheaties and strawberries, then go in his car and put on his retractable seat belt” – all technologies that he maintained had been invented at American universities.

Lyn Hejinian, a Berkeley English professor who founded the Solidarity Alliance, calls the U.C. president “obstructionist, imperious and unapproachable.” Others note that if Yudof, a longtime university administrator in Minnesota and Texas who has had the U.C. job only since 2008 didn’t create the mess, he nonetheless epitomizes it. “You replace Yudof and you get another Yudof,” Isaac Miller, an activist senior who helped erect the tombstones, said. “But he’s such a perfect front man for making our case.” After the students wound up their field trip, Yudof got an all-clear from the police and came home. He noticed the graveyard, he told me, but “I ignored it. You can protest, you can put up signs — at Berkeley they like to occupy trees and run nude — but the answer is I still don’t have any money.”