In August of 2020, Dr. Michael Drake officially became the 21st president of the University of California system– which includes ten campuses, five medical centers, three labs, more than 280,000 students, and 230,000 faculty and staff members.
Dr. Drake, born in New York City, has been a prominent force in education and leadership for many years. After earning his medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco, he spent more than two decades on the faculty of the UCSF School of Medicine, where he became a professor of Ophthalmology and senior associate dean. He then became the vice president for health affairs for the UC system from 2000-2005.
Before his 2020 return as the UC president, Dr. Drake served as chancellor of the University of California, Irvine from 2005-2014, and the 15th president of The Ohio State University from 2014-2020.
Recently, Dr. Drake carved out some time to speak in-person with local media to address some of the goals and initiatives that he has prioritized since settling into his role as president of the University of California system. He highlighted four major topics that will remain at the forefront of his everyday work at UC: Affordability, access, excellence, and combating climate change.
“We’re very interested in access, affordability, and excellence. We want those to all modify each other, all at the same time. Not one versus the other, or at the expense of the other, but to really continue to grow forward with those three, that’s very important to us,” said Drake.
Campus and community safety are also on the president’s radar. Of course, pandemic safety on campuses, but he also emphasized the importance of overall safety beyond COVID-19 protocols. Dr. Drake seeks to instill an even stronger foundation of safety, security, and respect on UC campuses and throughout UC culture.
The fight against climate change is more of a long-term battle, Dr. Drake admits, but he’s mapped out exactly how the University of California system will be a force in that battle, the three main methods being through science and research, policy, and constructively managing the system’s $40 billion annual budget. Dr. Drake acknowledges the impactful purchasing power that comes along with a budget of that nature.
“It’s a large budget, so what we would like to do is make sure that through our purchasing power and the way that we interact with our communities, we reflect the behaviors that we think everyone should take,” said Drake.
As for inclusion and diversity, this year’s class of students entering the UC system is the largest and also the most diverse. About 43 percent of students are from underrepresented minority groups, which is the most in UC history. As for affordability, currently, 56 percent of UC undergraduate students pay zero dollars in tuition, and many others have reduced tuition. Dr. Drake sees a future of even more financial assistance for students, such as help with books, and room and board. He also spoke about implementing more work-study programs with modest working hours, to ensure students can graduate debt-free.
The elimination of standardized testing is also a key factor in breaking down barriers when it comes to inclusion and equity in educational institutions. The UC system no longer uses SAT or ACT scores for its admissions or scholarship decision process, and although this went into effect just before Dr. Drake’s appointment as president, he fully supports it.
“There was very little added value in the standardized tests,” says Drake, adding, “and we found that there were certain opportunity gaps in the ability to prepare for standardized tests.”
For decades, many have argued that standardized testing inherently advantages wealthier, white students. In recent years, a number of universities across the country have moved away from the use of such tests, including University of California institutions.
As the first African American in his position as president of the University of California system, Dr. Drake recognizes the value and importance of pushing the needle forward toward progress.
“I always believe that it’s my job to be the best person that I can be in the job that I’m doing. There’s a little extra pressure… I never want to fail, and I think about that. I try to do a good job every day. And I hope that it helps to dispel the biases that we’ve all grown up with, and that our parents grew up with, and their parents before them… I believe that the proof of the pudding is by doing a good job, and that’s always been my calling,” said Drake.