HARVARD provost Albert Carnesdale is swapping snowshoes for inline skates to head the University of California's Los Angeles campus.
UCLA has 35,000 students and is twice the size of Harvard, but it is also a relatively young public university with a budget only marginally bigger than that of the elite private East Coast college.
But UC's gain was Harvard's loss, as faculty reacted with dismay. "I think this is a terrible loss," Marshall Goldman, a top Russian scholar, told the New York Times.
Mr Goldman called it a setback for Harvard's plans to integrate its 12 schools, rather than allow them to run themselves. Mr Carnesdale was a prime mover of the plan.
He was born in the Bronx to an Italian taxi driver and a Russian-Jewish mother. He is said to have a New Yorker's street-smart wit, with three boxes on his desk labelled "In", "Out", and "Too Hard".
A nuclear engineer by training, his array of degrees from second-ranking colleges is unusual for a senior figure at Harvard. But he has advised several presidents on nuclear weapons strategy, and said he wants to take UCLA into the ranks of the "great" universities.
Dr Carnesdale is one of the high-fliers named by university chancellor Richard Atkinson to run four of the nine publicly funded UC campuses.
Another outsider, Bob Berdahl, a University of Texas president, will lead its flagship Berkeley, which has been troubled by a funding squeeze and the row over "affirmative action" for minority students.
Mr Berdahl will replace chancellor Chian-Lin Tien, an outspoken supporter of affirmative action programme that eased the path of minority students, but which were abolished by UC's board of regents after a bitter political struggle. Mr Berdahl specialises in 19th-century Prussian history.