As he prepares to take the helm of the University of California – “this fabulous infrastructure of world-class universities” – President-designate Mark G. Yudof discussed his plans and priorities with editors and writers from campus news outlets during an informal conference call April 29. His message: He’ll be seeking more feedback from the 10 campuses before deciding how best to fix the system’s budget shortfall and “get the trains running on time.”

“The first priority for me is to get some things done in the Office of the President,” said Yudof, 63, who currently heads the University of Texas system and was visiting the Bay Area before assuming his UC post June 16. “It’s clear that by national and any other standards, we’re overstaffed, and we need to look at that.”

Campus correspondents asked how he planned to address UC’s projected budget deficit without compromising the system’s quality of education. UC faces a shortfall of $417 million, the difference between the governor’s plan and the Regents’ budget request for 2008-09.

The “real action,” Yudof said, is on the campuses.

“I’m not planning on a major initiative. I want to save money here (at UCOP) and get out of the way,” he said. “Frankly, I want to save money and put it on the campuses. We have a lot of good places to put the money.”

Not all of the talk was serious. When asked which campuses he considered to be the system’s flagship universities, Yudof said, “It sounds like a trick question,” and to single out any campus would be “like ‘Sophie’s Choice.’” He joked about moving UCOP headquarters to scenic Santa Barbara and enjoying a cigar with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yudof met with Schwarzenegger and policymakers in Sacramento as part of his preparation for the UC presidency.

“I was impressed with the governor,” Yudof said. “He almost lectured me on the value of higher education. He does get it.”

Yudof succeeds President Robert C. Dynes, who will step down by June 2008 after nearly five years as president.

He previously was president of the University of Minnesota and a longtime faculty member, dean and provost at the University of Texas at Austin. He began his academic career at UT Austin in 1971 as an assistant professor of law and later became dean of the School of Law from 1984 to 1994 and executive vice president and provost from 1994 to 1997.

Yudof told the reporters and editors that before he finds solutions to the challenges facing UC, he needs “a lot of feedback” from the campuses – which he plans to visit “fairly early on” after taking office.

“Remember, I’m still the pretender,” he said. “I don’t have the complete information, and I’m still learning about UC.”