UC Irvine chancellor takes top job at Ohio State

UCI chancellor Michael Drake will leave the Irvine campus in June. A search committee is expected to begin looking for a replacement in February.
(Marc Martin / Los Angeles Times)

Michael V. Drake, who as chancellor of UC Irvine enhanced the school’s reputation as a first-rate research institution and boosted enrollment, was named Thursday as the new president of Ohio State University.

Drake’s appointment was announced at a meeting of the Board of Trustees in Columbus. He was the consensus candidate, officials said.

“He is exactly the right leader at the right moment in the university’s history as we address the challenges of affordability and access, while building on the already strong momentum we have generated at Ohio State in increasing the university’s academic excellence,” board Chairman Robert H. Schottenstein said.

Drake has served as head of the 28,000-student Irvine campus since 2005. He has a medical degree, a background in administration and a reputation as a prolific fundraiser. He will move to the Ohio campus with 57,000 students, top-flight athletics, and a mission to improve its academic ranking and research focus.

He replaces former Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee, who retired in July after six years at the helm. It was his second stint as Ohio State president. Gee, known for his colorful bow ties, left under a cloud after making remarks considered disparaging to Catholics. He is now interim president of West Virginia University.


In an interview, Drake said that he would always be a fan of Irvine but that the Ohio State post was an opportunity to take on new challenges.

“It’s similar work, with a little different focus and scope in a different part of the country,” Drake said. “Ohio State is a wonderful example of a flagship university, a land grant university that is very connected with the community, that’s done wonderful things for the region and nationally and has wonderful potential to do even more.”

Drake, 63, will leave the Irvine campus in June. A search committee is expected to begin looking for a replacement in February, UC system President Janet Napolitano said in a statement. Irvine Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Howard Gillman will serve as interim chancellor until the post is filled.

Napolitano called Drake a “dedicated and passionate” leader.

“Chancellor Drake has made the promulgation of values a hallmark of the UC Irvine experience,” Napolitano said. “The seven campus values that he suggested at the time of his appointment — respect, intellectual curiosity, integrity, commitment, empathy, appreciation, and fun — have become essential parts of fostering the creative process, building stronger bonds between people, and inspiring a shared sense of purpose among faculty, staff, and students.”

Speculation within the UC system held that Drake was on the short list of candidates for the UC presidency that eventually went to Napolitano. Drake did not directly address whether that was a factor in his decision to leave Irvine.

“One of my reservations in leaving is that I won’t have an opportunity to continue working with President Napolitano, who brings a great voice and vision to UC,” Drake said. “I think she’s going to continue to be a terrific leader.”

Drake graduated from Stanford University and earned a medical degree from UC San Francisco, where he worked for more than two decades as a professor of ophthalmology. Before taking over UC Irvine, he was the UC system’s vice president for health affairs for five years.

At Irvine he presided over a tremendous growth spurt, with applications for undergraduate admissions increasing more than 90%. The university’s four-year graduation rate increased 19%, and Drake worked to increase admissions of low-income and minority students.

He also worked to repair the image of UCI’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 and the medical facility is considered among the nation’s finest.

The campus attracted controversy in 2010 when the Muslim Student Union was suspended after a protest disrupted a speech by the Israeli ambassador.

Drake oversaw the opening in 2009 of the first new public law school in California in more than 40 years. But he was criticized when he rescinded a contract with prominent legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky to become the founding dean because he felt the law professor’s liberal stances were polarizing. Drake denied being pressured by outside influences and the post was offered again to Chemerinsky, who accepted.

Chemerinsky said any initial tension had long faded. He said he spoke to members of the Ohio State search committee, telling them that Drake would make a “terrific” leader. The two have co-taught a freshman seminar on the history of civil rights for many years.

“I don’t think you can find a better campus president anywhere else in the country, though I’m heartbroken he’s leaving Irvine,” Chemerinsky said.

“He knows when to be hands on and when to delegate and he has a wonderful manner of dealing with people. I can’t say we have always agreed on everything, but I know where he stood on issues, and he was always willing to listen.”

Officials at Ohio State said Drake’s contract and salary are expected to be finalized Friday.