UCLA names Mexican health researcher Julio Frenk as its first Latino chancellor

The current president of the University of Miami was chosen Wednesday as the next chancellor of UCLA and will be the first Latino to lead the top public institution that has been embroiled in protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict in recent months.

During a meeting Wednesday on the UCLA campus, Dr. Julio Frenk, a leading global health researcher, was appointed by the University of California Board of Regents as the school's new leader. The university was bracing for more protests at the meeting after dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators were arrested on campus late Monday.

Frenk will become UCLA's seventh chancellor and succeed Gene Block, who will step down on July 31 after a 17-year tenure that saw a growth in enrollment and research funding.

Block had announced his retirement last August before the university came under intense scrutiny for its response to pro-Palestinian protests that had roiled college campuses across the country in late April and early May. The UCLA protests hit a flashpoint after a group of counter-demonstrators violently clashed with pro-Palestinian protestors on April 30.

Though Frenk did not address the protests or UCLA's response after his appointment was announced, he noted that it was a "crucial moment" for higher education.

"We must clearly and passionately articulate the many societal benefits that come from UCLA and its peer universities because there has been an erosion of trust in higher education," Frenk said Wednesday. "At this moment, campus communities across the country are facing complex questions related to protecting student well-being, stopping all forms of discrimination, and upholding free expression of rights."

Frenk will officially step into the role on Jan. 1, 2025. The University of California Board of Regents has chosen Darnell Hunt, the executive vice chancellor and provost of UCLA, to serve as interim chancellor from August until Frenk's arrival.

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Who is Dr. Julio Frenk?

Frenk has led the University of Miami, a private university with more than 17,000 students, since 2015. He previously served as dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health for nearly seven years.

Born in Mexico City, Frenk was Mexico’s health secretary from 2000 to 2006. He "worked to reform the nation’s health system and launched Seguro Popular, an ambitious program to provide universal comprehensive health insurance," UCLA said in a news release.

"His efforts helped expand access to health care for more than 55 million uninsured people," the university added.

Frenk was also the founding director of Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health and worked as an executive director at the World Health Organization. Before joining Harvard University, he was a senior fellow with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s global health program in 2008.

While serving as the dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Frenk was known for his efforts in fundraising and educational reform.

During his tenure at the University of Miami, Frenk "achieved a dramatic turnaround" of the university’s academic health system, UCLA and the University of Miami said. The university also invested in intercollegiate athletics, educational innovation, and interdisciplinary research.

Frenk led a $2.5 billion centennial-centered fundraising campaign, which has also resulted in more than 100 new faculty chairs, according to the university.

"In his nine years at the U, Julio led us through some of the most consequential moments in our history," Manny Kadre, University of Miami Board of Trustees Chair, said in a statement. "He helped guide the University through unprecedented challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and empowered our students, faculty, and staff to achieve excellence in every area— education, research, patient care, and service to society."

Frenk received his medical degree from the National University of Mexico in 1979. He then attended the University of Michigan, earning a master’s degrees in public health and sociology, and a joint doctorate in medical care organization and sociology from 1981 to 1983.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: UCLA appoints Julio Frenk as its first Latino chancellor