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Interview with the president of the University of California

This is pretty funny. And, to think that I used to work there. This guy definitely needs a P.R. consultant. I’ve seen dozens of these NYT mini-interviews, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone come off so badly. The high point for me was his answering a question about pay cuts by saying that he’s from Philadelphia. I don’t know how much of this is sheer incompetence and how much is coming from the interviewer (Deborah Solomon) trying to string him up. Usually she seems pretty gentle to her interview subjects. My guess is what happened is her easygoing questions lulled Yudof into a false sense of security, he got too relaxed, and he started saying stupid things. Solomon must have been amazed by what was coming out of his mouth.

P.S. The bit about the salary was entertaining too. I wonder if he has some sort of deal like sports coaches do, so that even if they fire him, they have to pay out X years on his contract.


  1. zbicyclist says:

    A bit of roughness might actually help him get the job done. He had high level positions at 2 other large state systems before this, so maybe this works for him. It's definitely more Texas than Manhattan.

    I actually like his Philly answer (who cares what "verlof" means in the original Dutch?), but then I often explain my own demand for more data by explaining "I'm from Missouri".

    On several levels, this is my favorite:

    "Why can’t you have architecture students repair the house for course credit?"

    "Let me ponder that."

  2. says:

    Oy, what a disaster. Is there anything in the UC system that's going right?

    And here's an on-topic empirical question. How fast has a top-tier university ever plunged in quality/rankings/whatever? Can we build a predictive model of what Cal's going to look like in 10 years if current trends continue?

  3. mv says:

    This is funny. I don't see this as a sign of incompetence at UofC though. The guy seems very stressed out at his job and just lets everything loose. The furlough question was stupid, and I like his answer.

  4. jonathan says:

    Not being an academic, I didn't think he came off badly. But then I remember the young R. Reagan yelling at the Berkeley chancellor for not cracking down on the kids demonstrating. Didn't hurt Ron to be a little rough.

    It's a tough job. Lots tougher than running all but a handful of companies.

    Funny how we would point at CA and note that their problems were their own fault; you can't govern if you need 60 votes to get things done. And now we see that's the case in general, that the minority party in Congress can decide to block anything and everything if it refuses to compromise.

    The other oddity is that the Democrats still choose to compromise instead of using the same tactics of total refusal. And since the people on the margin can sell their vote for so much, we now have a system in which it pays to hold out because you get more if you are labeled as the marginal vote that must be bought. If you are part of the larger bloc that commits early, you get squat. Perverse governance incentives.

  5. Dan S. says:

    I think the problem is that it all comes across as off the cuff and careless. I mean, you have someone from the paper of record interviewing you, while you occupy the head position of one of the top university systems in the world, perched on the brink of a precipice, in a completely disfunctional state, and you come across as if engaged in weirdly detacted small talk. Sheesh.

    I know many faculty that each a 10th of what this guy earn and they are really hurting with the furloughs and he says I'm in my position by accident and I go where they tell me.

    "The shine is off"? WFT?

  6. Sebastian says:

    note that these are not actual interviews – the Times got into trouble because Deborah Salomon takes so much liberty with how she writes things up, so now I think the byline is that they are "edited and distilled" by her. Which means she can essentially make them sound however she wants to

  7. Kaiser says:

    this is fun reading for sure. I actually thought he was expressing some frustration with the types of questions he was being asked, and the fact that he was stuck in that spot. He certainly did not come off well but I thought the interviewer came off even worse. She didn't ask a single question that is related to the quality of education. What was the point of this interview?

    I also don't see how his answers can be correlated with the quality of the faculty, research, or students at Berkeley.

  8. Andrew Gelman says:


    My impression is that Solomon's general approach is to interview a controversial figure and then ask him or her some offbeat questions that give the person the chance to deflect criticism with humor. See here, for example. What struck me about the Yudof interview was how badly he came off in it (although, reading the comments above, maybe this was just my impression; maybe lots of people thought he was likable), given that she was giving him every opportunity to seem personable. I agree that, as journalism, this interview was a waste of time. But, as entertainment, it had something to offer.

    Regarding your second point: It's not that Yudof is a reflection of the quality of UC Berkeley, but he certainly has an effect on Berkeley's quality. I'd rather not work at a university whose leader comes off as an anti-intellectual buffoon.

  9. Charles says:

    Apparently Solomon's level of editing is beyond the pale. She was strongly criticised by the NYT public editor a while back for distorting interviews. Of course, then it seems like extremely poor judgement for Yudof to agree to the interview!

  10. You didn't even mention the part where he says, "being president of the University of California is like being manager of a cemetery". I am sure that you would not want your boss to have that attitude.

  11. Stephen Ahearn says:

    Mark Yudof was also interview for an NPR story which aired on Wed. Jan. 27th. In it he also comes across poorly so I don't believe that Deborah Solomon can be blamed for his poor performance. I hope he just had a bad week.