Howard Gillman, a political scientist who has been interim chancellor of UC Irvine since July, is being nominated to become the permanent head of the Orange County campus as it starts its second half-century.
Gillman became temporary chancellor of the 29,000-student school when Michael V. Drake, the campus leader since 2005, left to become president of Ohio State University.
On Thursday, UC President Janet Napolitano tapped Gillman to keep the job indefinitely after what was described as a wide national search involving more than 400 possible candidates circled back to him. Final approval by the UC regents is expected later this month.
Gillman had been a longtime political science professor at USC, where he was former dean of the university's largest academic unit, the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. In June 2013, he switched over to the public UC system when he was appointed provost and executive vice chancellor of UC Irvine. Gillman already had deep connections to the UC system: he earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at UCLA.
In a statement released Monday, Napolitano said Gillman "appreciates the entrepreneurial spirit and bold ambitions embodied by the campus, and he has the imagination, intelligence and energy to lead the faculty, staff and students to the next level of excellence."
Gillman, who is 55, would take over permanently as the Irvine campus is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The milestone attracted national attention with President Obama's graduation speech in June.
"Though it's a relatively young campus at just over 50 years old, UC Irvine is incredibly accomplished, with great aspirations. I look forward to forging a shared vision with all who teach, research, learn and work on the campus, and with the larger community outside the campus," Gillman said in a statement.
Officials said he was declining requests for interviews until after the regents review his nomination at a meeting in San Francisco in two weeks.
When Gillman came to UC Irvine as provost, a faculty group separate from the campus' main faculty senate protested his appointment and alleged that Gillman's administration at USC had hurt the tenure and retention chances of minority and women professors there. Gillman said the complaints were unfounded.
On Thursday, UC Irvine history professor Mark LeVine, vice chairman of the Irvine Faculty Assn., said that Gillman had not been on campus long enough to have a record that could be fully analyzed. And, LeVine said, the selection process for the chancellorship did not allow enough faculty and public participation.
Still, LeVine promised to support Gillman while "watching him to make sure he is serving the interests of faculty and students" and not the interests of corporate and managerial entities.
Mary Gilly, a UC Irvine management professor who is also the chair of the systemwide UC faculty senate, described Gillman as "hard-working and insightful" and said she was impressed by how quickly he adapted to the UC system.
Gillman's biggest challenges would be to expand and improve doctoral programs in the humanities and sciences and to make the Irvine campus better known beyond California.
"Certainly the president coming to give the commencement speech did a lot for that. We are no longer a little regional school. We need to make sure the national stage is aware of us," Gilly said.
The school employs 1,100 faculty and 9,400 staff, including those at its medical center.
Gillman's current salary as interim chancellor is $367,071. The regents also would be weighing the sensitive issue of whether to raise it despite Gov. Jerry Brown's opposition to high executive compensation at California's public universities.
Drake left for Ohio State, a school twice as big as UC Irvine, after what some observers said was his disappointment in not becoming the first African American president of the 10-campus UC system. Napolitano, the former secretary of Homeland Security, was chosen as president and stepped into the job a year ago.
At Irvine, Drake presided over tremendous growth, with applications for undergraduate admissions increasing more than 90%. Drake, a physician, also helped to repair the image of UC Irvine's Medical School after The Times reported in 2005 that more than 30 patients died awaiting liver transplants over a two-year period. Since then, the school has built a new hospital that has a strong reputation.
This is the second time in two months that an interim UC chancellor has been offered the job outright. Sam Hawgood, the dean of UC San Francisco's Medical School and interim chancellor of that campus since April, was named its head in July.