Dr. Michael Drake

Michael Drake in 2005 after recently being appointed as UC Irvine's fifth chancellor. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

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Michael V. Drake announced Thursday that he is stepping down as chancellor of UC Irvine to become president of Ohio State University.

Drake, 63, who has been chancellor at UCI since 2005, will leave June 30, according to a statement made Thursday by the University of California President Janet Napolitano.

In the coming weeks, Napolitano will create a committee to conduct a national search to find a new chancellor. UC Irvine Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Howard Gillman will serve as interim chancellor after Drake’s departure.

Drake's 2005 hire was just months after failures in UCI's liver transplant program led to more than 30 patient deaths. Since then, the university has built a new hospital and worked to restore the image of its medical program.

UC Irvine’s applications for undergraduate admissions have risen more than 90% since Drake’s appointment, and the four-year graduation rate has increased by more than 19%, according to the university’s website.

Drake has been a “steadfast champion of inclusion and diversity,” according his biography on the UCI website.

In the past five years, the number of undergraduate students from underrepresented minorities has risen by more than 59%. In addition, 60% of entering freshman in the Class of 2017 are first-generation college students and a large majority come from low-income families.

“Chancellor Drake’s dedicated and passionate leadership has positioned UC Irvine for a bright future as a world-class research university,” Napolitano said in her statement. “I personally will miss his wise counsel and camaraderie.”

Drake’s other accomplishments include overseeing the opening of the first new public law school in California in more than 40 years. The UC Irvine School of Education was also established in July 2012.

There has also been controversies at the university since his appointment.

In 2007, Drake was the focus of national uproar when he fired Erwin Chemerinsky — a respected constitutional scholar who was viewed as too liberal by many in the Orange County’s conservative-leaning legal community — as dean of the university’s law school and rehired him almost a week later.

Drake also took a hard line in 2010 against the actions of the 11 Palestinian students who disrupted a campus speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. The students, known as “the Irvine 11,” were arrested, criminally prosecuted and the school’s Muslim Student Union faced suspension.

The decision to leave the UC system was a difficult one, he said.

“My career at the University of California has spanned the entirety of my adult life, from future focused days of medical school and residency, to this, my 35th year as a faculty member,” he wrote in a letter Thursday to colleagues. “I have enjoyed privileges and experiences that exceeded my imagination.”

Drake’s appointment marks the first time a black president has been hired at Ohio State. He is replacing interim President Joseph A. Alutto, who has been at the helm since former President E. Gordon Gee retired in July.

The new position could possibly come with a considerable pay raise, according to data provided by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Drake earned $401,116 in 2012 as UCI’s chancellor, while former Ohio State president Gee left his post making $1.9 million in total compensation annually, according to the data.

Branson-Potts writes for the Los Angeles Times and can be reached at hailey.branson@latimes.com.