Janet Napolitano, U.S. homeland security secretary, chosen as next UC president

Former Homeland Security Secretary and next UC President Janet Napolitano spoke to UC Berkeley students on April 25, 2011 on national cyberspace security.
Jeffrey Joh/File
Former Homeland Security Secretary and next UC President Janet Napolitano spoke to UC Berkeley students on April 25, 2011 on national cyberspace security.

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U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will be appointed as the next president of the University of California system on Friday, pending approval by the UC Board of Regents next week.

Taking over in the wake of President Mark Yudof’s planned August resignation, she will be the first woman to occupy the position of UC president in the system’s 145-year history. She has served as governor of Arizona and was among more than 300 candidates considered for the position. Napolitano also resigned from her position as secretary of Homeland Security on Friday.

Though she lacks previous experience in university administration, Napolitano has served in various public leadership roles. She was the first woman to occupy the position of attorney general of Arizona from 1998 to 2003 and served two terms as governor of Arizona from 2003 to 2009. She was also the first woman to chair the National Governors Association.

“I am both honored and excited by the prospect of serving as president of the University of California,” Napolitano said in a statement Friday. “I recognize that I am a non-traditional candidate … In my experience, whether preparing to govern a state or to lead an agency as critical and complex as Homeland Security, I have found the best way to start is simply to listen.”

According to Tim Bee, associate vice president for state relations at the University of Arizona, “education was a top priority” for Napolitano during her tenure as Arizona governor. He noted Napolitano’s help establishing the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine in Phoenix, securing pay increases for Arizona university employees and allocating about $1 billion of lottery revenues for university infrastructure, among other things.

“At the time she left office, the university system in Arizona was receiving the largest total general fund appropriations in the history of the state,” Bee said. “Education was a very important focus of her efforts to build a strong workforce and a diversified economy with a focus on science, bioscience and technology.”

But Napolitano still represents an unconventional choice for the university, which only five years ago selected its first president from outside the UC system, Mark Yudof. Yudof had more than two decades of experience in university administration — which included heading the University of Texas and University of Minnesota.

The Board of Regents have set a more political course by selecting Napolitano, at a time when the state government is increasingly involved in its affairs. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown attended a regents meeting for the first time in his term where he criticized the pace at which the university was pursuing online education. Brown’s 2013-14 proposed budget initially tied higher education funding to performance standards set by the state.

Raquel Morales, president of the University of California Student Association, chaired the student advisory committee that aided in Napolitano’s selection. She said the committee was looking for “someone outside of the system” who was “more of a political figure,” able to address issues with the federal government and the state governor.

“It will be exciting to work with her,” Brown said in a brief statement released Friday morning. “Secretary Napolitano has the strength of character and an outsider’s mind that will well serve the students and faculty.”

Student regent Cinthia Flores also said Napolitano’s political experience will help her in the role but that it might be difficult for her to interface with UC students without educational experience.

“I think her name recognition may assist the UC’s advocacy efforts at the state and federal level,” she said. “(But) Napolitano will have a difficult transition into the role of head university administrator. In particular, I think she may need strong guidance in helping build and nurture working relationships with students.”

As Homeland Security secretary, Napolitano has been involved in debates over immigration reform. She has supported provisions of the DREAM Act, allowing students who meet its criteria to remain in the country despite the act failing to pass in Congress.

However, some have expressed concern over her leadership role in the Obama administration’s deportation of more than 1.4 million undocumented immigrants since 2008.

“The Obama administration has deported a staggering number of people,” said ASUC Executive Vice President Nolan Pack. Napolitano’s support of the DREAM Act is also inconsistent with the policies of Homeland Security, he said.

Pack said he doubts whether Napolitano would gain any support from undocumented students in light of this inconsistency.

“It is important students have someone who can understand and empathize in high positions of administration,” Pack said.

Morales said she hopes Napolitano is willing to fight for student rights, which would include efforts to broaden the types of resources available for undocumented students.

“We hope she will be able to address these issues regardless of her background,” Morales said.

Napolitano was recommended to the UC Regents in a unanimous vote by a selection committee that included former student regent Jonathan Stein, former board chair Sherry Lansing, current chair Bruce Varner and regents Richard Blum and Russell Gould, as well as Brown.

Contact Micah Fry at [email protected]

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article misspelled Janet Napolitano’s last name.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Napolitano supported the federal DREAM Act, which has granted temporary amnesty to young undocumented immigrants brought into the United States by their parents. In fact, the federal was never made into law.

A previous version of this article may have implied that Janet Napolitano was appointed as UC President on Friday. In fact, she will be appointed pending approval by the UC Board of Regents Thursday.

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