Michael Drake becomes 1st Black person, person of color appointed UC president

Michael Drake
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After serving as the UC vice president for health affairs, the chancellor of UC Irvine and, more recently, the president of Ohio State University, Michael Drake will become the next UC president after Janet Napolitano steps down in August.

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Dr. Michael Drake will be the next president of the UC system — the first person of color and the first Black person to hold the position.

Drake was approved by the UC Board of Regents on Tuesday to replace current UC President Janet Napolitano once she steps down from the position in August. He previously served as the UC vice president for health affairs, the chancellor of UC Irvine and, more recently, the president of Ohio State University.

In a press conference Tuesday, Drake, who abandoned plans of retirement to accept the role, said he is “grateful and very humbled” to have the opportunity to serve as the UC president. 

“There’s no other job I would have considered,” Drake said at the press conference. “It really is not possible for me to think of my life without thinking of the University of California and the opportunities it provided.” 

Before becoming an administrator, Drake attended UCSF for medical school and later joined the faculty of the UCSF School of Medicine, specializing in ophthalmology, or eye and vision care.

UC Irvine’s rankings rose during Drake’s term as chancellor — it reached the ranks of the U.S. News and World Report’s top 10 public universities in the country. New schools and programs were also established, including ones in law, education, public health, nursing and pharmacy, while he was chancellor. 

Under Drake’s leadership, UC Irvine’s four-year graduation rate increased by more than 18%, as did the diversity of the undergraduate student body.

“Drake brings with him an extraordinary degree of experience, an established record of accomplishment, and a proven capacity for effective leadership,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ in a campuswide email Tuesday. “Drake can and will usher in a new era of excellence, access, inclusion, and true equity for the University, for our campus community, and for the people of California who we serve.”

Diversity and inclusion have been a daily part of Drake’s career — he noted that there were more African Americans appointed to Ohio State’s leadership cabinet in the last five years than in the prior 140 years combined. Drake added that his administration also increased student retention rates and narrowed student achievement gaps. 

Drake said he believes in strength in inclusivity and wants to apply efforts to ensuring that prospective students can apply to the UC system. 

“I will continue to support measures that help the greatest number of our fellow citizens realize their full potential,” Drake said at the press conference. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement that he is “delighted” to welcome Drake as the university’s president, adding that he believes it is necessary for higher education institutions to remain open, accessible and inclusive during this time. 

Along with state, regent and colleague support, Drake also received the support of students, as UC Student Association President Varsha Sarveshwar said in a statement that Drake recognizes “long-standing challenges” of the university. She also affirmed his commitment to equity, affordability and student consultation, among other attributes. 

“I am hopeful that Dr. Drake will work in partnership with UCSA to follow through on these principles,” Sarveshwar said in the statement. “I challenge him to boldly pursue a vision for the University of California that is grounded in economic, social, and racial justice.”

Contact Sebastian Cahill and Kate Finman at [email protected].