SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 20 - Ward Connerly, a black Sacramento millionaire who for a decade has led a turbulent crusade against race preferences, is leaving his bully pulpit at the University of California.
Mr. Connerly attended his last meeting here on Thursday as a member of the university's Board of Regents, and was given a resolution of appreciation and a standing ovation from his colleagues. The resolution described him as a "catalyst for change," a reference to a 12-year term that deeply divided the university and the state and thrust the board into the center of a rancorous national debate about affirmative action.
"I am relieved that it has come to an end," the 65-year-old Mr. Connerly said in an interview. "Twelve years is a long time. I've tried to use those years wisely and to pursue the things that I believe in, not to shrink from anything. And as a result of that, it has placed a little bit of added stress on me."
In comments to the Regents, he warned that there would be "great temptation" to revert to previous policies on race.
"For God's sake," he said, "don't do it."
It was Mr. Connerly, a Republican, who led an effort by the Regents in 1995 that banned affirmative action in admissions policies throughout the University of California system. The following year, he championed a successful statewide ballot measure that prohibits state and local governments from using racial and sexual preferences in hiring, contracting and college admissions.
A similar measure later passed in Washington State, and Mr. Connerly is trying to get one on the ballot next year in Michigan. He said he was also considering ballot measures in several other states.
"If you gain some degree of public visibility," he said, "you don't lose that just because you no longer have a title."
His critics agreed.
"It is good news because he'll no longer be able to lower the number of minorities at California's flagship universities," Julian Bond, chairman of the N.A.A.C.P., said of Mr. Connerly's departure. "It is bad news because he'll now have more free time to take his devilry around the country."
Christopher Edley Jr., dean of the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, who was a founder of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard, said in an e-mail interview that Mr. Connerly's "name recognition rivals that of the past decade's highest state officials" as both "villain and hero."
"He's been both profoundly wrong and phenomenally effective," Professor Edley added, "touching millions of lives not just in California but nationwide."
Former Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican who named Mr. Connerly to the 26-member Board of Regents in 1993, described him as a "rare human being" who was driven to do the right thing but whose legacy with the board "depends entirely upon the ideological holding of the person that you are asking."
"Ward is tough-minded and strong-willed, and what he was doing was a matter of intense conviction," Mr. Wilson said. "He reminds me of the phrase 'One man with courage makes a majority.' "
Mr. Connerly's single 12-year term officially ends on March 1, but the Regents do not meet again before then. He said in the interview that he had not sought reappointment and had not been approached by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about staying on.
A spokeswoman for the governor would not comment, citing confidentiality of personnel matters. Mr. Wilson, who is closely aligned with Mr. Schwarzenegger, said it was not uncommon for a new governor to seek his own appointments to state boards.
It is also possible that Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, did not relish a confirmation fight in the Democratic-controlled Legislature at a time when he is involved in intense negotiations over his proposed state budget. Mr. Connerly's appointment to a second term would most certainly have raised the ire of his critics, many of whom blame him for the sharp drop in the number of black and Latino students at some University of California campuses, most notably at Berkeley and Los Angeles.
"I think he did a grave disservice to the university," said one frequent foe of Mr. Connerly, Eva Paterson, president of the Equal Justice Society, which favors affirmative action. "I think history will not look kindly on what he did."
Mr. Connerly said that the drop in black and Latino enrollment bothered him but that the responsibility fell on the students, not him.
"I would like to see more of them there," he said, "but that is something for them to achieve, not for the government by fiat to say we are going to move people around."
He said his biggest disappointment was his failing to persuade university officials, and later the state's voters, to stop thepractice of collecting data based on race, ethnicity or national origin. A ballot measure that would have ended that practice was defeated in 2003. Mr. Connerly said that his own ancestry is black, Irish, French and Choctaw but that the "one-drop rule" boils his identity down to black.
"I think with the fullness of time, that too will move forward," he said, "with or without me."