UCLA names Julio Frenk as school's first Latino chancellor

Josh Haskell Image
Wednesday, June 12, 2024
UCLA names Julio Frenk as school's first Latino chancellor
Julio Frenk, a global health expert and president of the University of Miami, was named the next chancellor of UCLA, making him the first Latino to lead the Westwood university in its history.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- For the first time, a Latino will head UCLA.

It was a pivotal moment for UCLA with the naming of Julio Frenk as the school's new chancellor, Julio Frenk.

Frenk comes to Westwood from the University of Miami, where he served as president. He is also a leading global health researcher, who served as Mexico's secretary of health.

Frenk is tasked with bringing the university together after weeks of protests. Although health care is paramount to the university, it's actually the topic of free speech that will be front and center for the new chancellor.

"What I'm going to be very focused in the next weeks and months is an intentional deep listening exercise. Meeting with every constituency trying to understand the different perspectives and then build on that," he said.

Frenk heard some of those perspectives Wednesday at the UC Board of Regents meeting, where students and faculty expressed their concerns over how the university has handled three Gaza solidarity encampments, protests, disruptions and safety.

"Only 36 hours ago as a member of this community, we witnessed the heinous verbal attacks on Administrative Vice Chancellor Michael Beck and the assaulting of Rabbi Dovid Gurevich of Chabad House at UCLA. We must take a stand against antisemitism and a stand against Hamas sympathizing," said Dr. Ryan Aronin, UCLA professor.

"As a Jewish student on campus, I have felt unsafe not because of the peaceful pro-Palestine demonstrations, but because of militarized cops in riot gear being called to tear gas and shoot rubber bullets at us. The university says it cares about our safety and yet responds to our right to protest genocide with violent police brutality. The university says it cares about our education, but how am I supposed to focus on my finals when my friends are getting beaten, bruised and arrested," a student said at Wednesday's meeting.

As Frenk received a warm greeting from UCLA leadership inside the Luskin Conference Center, another protest formed outside calling for divestment and better wages for university employees. Frenk said he supports freedom of expression, but that it must not include harassment or discrimination.

"Students are here to thrive. They come here to learn and thrive. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you're an undergraduate, you have a few years to do this. They need to have the environment that allows and enables the learning," Frenk said.

Frenk, whose father and grandfather were Jews who fled Germany in the 1930s to Mexico to escape growing antisemitism, acknowledged the issues facing the university, and institutes of higher education nationwide.

"I consider myself a boundary spanner and a bridge builder," Frenk said. "And I know that the strength of institutions of higher learning -- socially, academically and intellectually -- comes from their diversity and from a willingness to cross boundaries.

"I do think that we're at a critical moment in higher education. There has been an erosion of trust in institutions in general, including higher education institutions. The biggest challenge for us is to reaffirm our value to society -- we have to constantly earn that trust. But the opportunity is huge."

Meantime, two independent investigations are underway - one to look at how UCPD dealt with protesters, and the other to look at how the university addressed the encampments.

Frenk will take over the job on Jan. 1, 2025, succeeding Gene Block, who is stepping down on July 31. UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Darnell Hunt will serve as interim chancellor until Frenk arrives.

City News Service contributed to this report.