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Mark Yudof’s career journey: from Jesse to Arnold

Mark Yudof, who as president guided the University of Minnesota through the Gopher basketball scandal and Jesse Ventura’s term as governor, is expected to be named head of the University of California system Thursday. He’s the only recommended candidate before the board of regents.

The son of a Philadelphia electrician who went on to be a constitutional law scholar, Yudof taught at the University of Texas Austin, then worked his way up to  provost before succeeding Nils Hasselmo as president of the University of Minnesota in 1997.

A popular president, Yudof increased federal research grants to the university that brought big name scientists and charmed the Legislature. He also improved campus signage after getting lost too many times in the university’s underground tunnels and spruced up a tired looking Twin Cities campus. An East Bank residence hall overlooking a redesigned view of the Mississippi River is named for him.

His decision in 2000 to buy out the $1.5 million contract of men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins following allegations of widespread cheating proved controversial. The university sued to get the money back after its own study showed the allegations, first leveled by the Pioneer Press, were true. Nonetheless, the U’s regents gave Yudof a $15,000 bonus for his handling of the affair.

In 2002 Yudof returned to Austin to become chancellor of the University of Texas system, which has 194,000 students on 15 campuses. (Minnesota has 66,000 students enrolled on five campuses.)

Last month the Chronicle of Higher Education published an opinion piece Yudof wrote questioning whether university systems add value to higher education. He concluded they do — if managed properly.

Yudof’s forte is squeezing dollars out of legislatures. When he went to Texas the state was facing a $10 billion shortfall. After scouring the campuses for savings, Yudof talked the Legislature into the system’s biggest state funding.

He’s paid well for that talent. His salary in Texas, with deferred compensation, is $742,000 a year, one of the highest in the nation. Yudof will succeed Robert C. Dynes, who is paid $421,000.

Californians will be watching Yudof’s salary negotiations carefully. Last week the California system, which has 222,000 students on 10 campuses, announced budget cutbacks, including elimination of 404 jobs and $52 million in the president’s office.

In the past 20 years California has cut the state’s financial support of the system from half to 20 percent today.  It’s a fair guess that Yudof will be looking to work his magic on the California legislators. Maybe he can get Ventura’s buddy, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, to put in a good word for him.

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