Amid national calls for change in equity and access, the University of California made a historic move this week, naming for the first time, a Black man to lead its 10 campuses and 280,000 students.

Former Sacramento resident Michael V. Drake, M.D. is the first person of color to serve in the role in the university system’s 152-year history. Dr. Drake, 70, earned a bachelor’s degree from Stanford and a medical degree in ophthalmology from UC San Francisco, then began a career in academia.

Until last week, he served as president of The Ohio State University (OSU). Prior to his six years at OSU, his entire academic career had been at UC, including as chancellor of UC Irvine for nine years from 2005 to 2014 and as the systemwide vice president for health affairs from 2000 to 2005.

“As the first person of color to serve as UC president, Dr. Drake returns to UC at an important point in the University’s journey,” said John A. Pérez, chair of the UC Board of Regents.

The UC system is touted among the best places to get an education, but it’s not without challenges. Leaders have struggled over the last two decades with the issue of diversity, in a post-Prop. 209 reality.

Dr. Drake says diversity will be a priority for his administration.

“Diversity and inclusion have been a part of my career every day up until this point,” he said. “It’s a challenge for all of us in the United States. I use the last six years at Ohio State; we reversed a 20-year trend in decreasing African American enrollment and this past year, have not only equalled but actually exceeded the number of African American students admitted to the university in its 150-year history … doubling the number of African American students admitted between 2014 and 2020.

“We were also very pleased to dramatically increase the retention and graduation rates of all our students, but in doing so we narrowed the achievement gap between students from underrepresented and first generation backgrounds and those things were critically important to us and part of our overarching theme.”

Dr. Drake says he also appointed more African Americans to the campus’ leadership cabinet in the last five years than had been in its history.

“I’m a firm believer in inclusion,” Dr. Drake said. “It takes all of us to do our best work.”

The UC Board of Regents is supporting ACA 5, Assemblymember Shirley N. Weber’s effort to repeal California’s anti-affirmative action legislation that would once again allow race to be a factor in admissions, hiring and contracting. The measure will be on the November ballot as Prop. 16.

“I’ve always understood, clearly, that we are our strongest as a nation, we are strongest as a people, when we are inclusive, when we allow ourselves to benefit from the contributions of people from a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives,” Dr. Drake shared. “That has allowed us to continue to evolve forward as a human species and I’ve always been a champion of that.

“There are a variety of methods and techniques that we have done to help ourselves be more inclusive. Affirmative action was one of those. I certainly practiced and supported affirmative action programs actively until the law changed (in 1996),” he continued. “When that happened we went to other means and methods but the goal was the same, and that was to make us the most inclusive, the most productive, the most positive, the most successful society and community that we can be. I will continue to support measures that help the most number of our fellow citizens realize their goals and potential.”

While at UC Irvine, Dr. Drake led the university to rank among the top 10 public universities in the U.S. News & World Report’s annual list and a ranking by Times Higher Education as the top university in the U.S. under 50 years old. Dr. Drake also spent more than two decades on the faculty of the UCSF School of Medicine. Dr. Drake will take over from Janet Napolitano, the UC sysyem’s first female president, in August. He had originally planned to retire. He explained what made him change his mind.

“Thinking about the trajectory of the country, the place that the university was and the chance that perhaps there might be a way to contribute further to the future really became a compelling opportunity,” he said.

Dr. Drake takes the helm of the UC system as it faces challenges stemming from the global coronavirus pandemic and lost revenue from the continued shutdown. He’s agreed to take a 10 percent pay cut for his first year.

“I am confident that Dr. Drake is the leader we need to guide our world-class higher education system through this time of unprecedented challenge,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

“It is more imperative than ever that our institutions of higher education remain open, accessible and inclusive, and emerge from this moment even more equitable than before. Dr. Drake possesses the demonstrated insight, experience and commitment it takes to help us continue to grow the next generation of extraordinary California leaders,” Gov. Newsom continued.

Dr. Drake grew up for a time in Sacramento and attended Sacramento City College in the late 1960s. His father was a pioneering Black physician, and his mother, a social worker, also wrote for The Sacramento OBSERVER. A highly sought-after thought leader, Dr. Drake currently serves as a member of the board of directors for the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and is also the chair of the board of governors of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a member of the American Talent Initiative Steering Committee, and a member of the board of directors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

By: Genoa Barrow |Senior Staff Writer