Jewish Journal

New UC president Yudof is part of a dynamic duo

by Tom Tugend

Posted on Mar. 23, 2008 at 6:00 pm

Judy and Mark Yudof

Judy and Mark Yudof

Wedged among the usual academic honors and awards in the official biography of Mark G. Yudof, unanimously chosen last week by a search committee as the next president of the massive University of California system, are entries that Yudof and his wife, Judy, are 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, as well as on the B'nai B'rith Advisory Council in Austin, Texas.

Yudof, chancellor of the University of Texas since 2002, is to be formally confirmed by the UC Regents within a week. As such, he will take the helm of the world's leading public research university, with 10 campuses, including Berkeley and UCLA, some 220,000 students and an $18-billion budget.

Even more noteworthy for the Jewish community is the resumÃ(c) 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 dean, 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 Texas as chancellor of the multicampus UT system.

In a 2003 interview in the Dallas Morning News, Yudof 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 as well as his obsessive love of pancakes.

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 Moses Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish philosopher, at local synagogues.

Along with 10 other American university heads, Yudof visited Israel last July, where he proposed joint research between Israeli and American universities.

He recently reported on his trip at the UT 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.

Rabbi David Komerofsky, the Hillel executive director at UT's flagship Austin campus, said that, "I've never known Mark Yudof to refuse an invitation to a Jewish community event.

"He is a terrific friend of Hillel, a thoughtful man with a sense of humor, who is a real leader and straight shooter," Komerofsky added. "He and Judy are two points of pride for the Jewish community."

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 1975-1983.

As UC 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.

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