Napolitano to lead UC system

napolitano
Arya Aliabadi/File

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano was confirmed as the University of California’s next president more than a month ago, and the administration and student groups are now turning from reaction to response, preparing for her Sept. 30 start date.

Napolitano was confirmed as the 20th UC president by the UC Board of Regents in the summer. She replaces outgoing President Mark Yudof, who headed the UC system for five years. The appointment was a historic one, marking the university’s first female president as well as the first nonacademic to hold the position.

Concerns regarding Napolitano’s appointment have spanned from her lack of background in education — this will be the former governor of Arizona’s first job in academia — to her position as Homeland Security Secretary. Her role in implementing immigration policies such as Secure Communities, a program that granted local governments the power to report undocumented individuals to federal authorities, drew protests at the July regents meeting, where Napolitano’s appointment was confirmed.

In response to some of these concerns, Safeena Mecklai, the ASUC external affairs vice president, said both the UC Student Association and the ASUC will be considering formal reactions to Napolitano’s appointment in the coming weeks. The UCSA already recognized a series of student concerns about Napolitano’s confirmation at its meeting earlier this month and has posted a forum to its website asking for student feedback on the new UC president.

Mecklai said some students are pushing for the bodies to pass votes of “no confidence” in the new UC president — a goal she is unsure will see headway.

“The process of Napolitano’s appointment was hidden, unfair and excluded the student voice,” Mecklai said in an email. “That being said, she was appointed. Students should create a concrete list of things they want to see Napolitano do in order to prove that she is committed to students.”

UC Student Regent Cinthia Flores echoed this sentiment, saying the new president should first and foremost address student concerns that she said did not get airtime during the presidential selection process.

“The most vocal group has been the undocumented students, but others have mentioned Napolitano’s inexperience with education, her inexperience with the California educational system,” Flores said. “She’s coming from an agency where there’s a lot of military spending, and there’s a lot of talk about whether that will silence student activism at UC.”

A special regents committee chose Napolitano with input from UC faculty, students and staff but did not publicly release the names of candidates for the job to ensure the privacy of the candidates, Regent Sherry Lansing said at the July regents meeting.

Despite some student discontent, the university is preparing for Napolitano’s arrival. She will remain Secretary of Homeland Security until Sept. 6, according to UC spokesperson Steve Montiel.

Napolitano is scheduled to visit the UC Berkeley campus at some point in November, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof. The future UC president has already spoken with UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks a few times in what Mogulof called “relationship-building” phone calls.

“I don’t know exactly what she’ll be doing between her time leaving Homeland Security and her time here, but I imagine it will include a lot of reading,” Montiel said.

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