Can Napolitano regain Californians’ trust?

UNIVERSITY ISSUES: Top executives in the UC president's office interfered in a state audit. This is reprehensible.

Kelly Baird/Staff

It’s undeniable: Top officials in UC President Janet Napolitano’s office interfered with a state audit last year.

And it’s inexcusable that Napolitano sanctioned any kind of prior review that could jeopardize the UC system’s ethical standing in the eyes of state lawmakers and taxpayers, particularly at a time when the university has to fight tooth and nail for public funding.

A state audit released in April found that the UC Office of the President had about $175 million in undisclosed reserve funds. Moreover, a recent independent investigation found that executives in her office told campuses to not “air dirty laundry” in a survey sent out as part of the state audit. The nudge by UC executives prompted three campuses to change their answers, casting the UC president’s office in a more favorable light. To make matters worse, the executives then tried to cover their tracks, misinforming investigators as to the nature of their interference.

Napolitano’s missteps fed right into the narrative that state lawmakers often put forth: that the UC is untrustworthy and unable to manage its own finances efficiently. Discrediting the UC’s independence has served time and again as an excuse for the California legislature to reduce the autonomy of the UC system.

State legislators and editorial boards have called for Napolitano’s resignation. The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board wrote that it was right for the UC Board of Regents to chastise her at its November meeting. Given her record as UC president, resignation might be a step too far, but Napolitano will have to work doubly hard to regain the public’s trust, and not just when it comes to budget transparency.

Napolitano has the capacity to right her wrongs; she has demonstrated a dexterity for navigating tumultuous state funding politics. In 2015, she negotiated with Gov. Jerry Brown in their “committee of two” for more funding back when students across the system protested hard against giant impending tuition hikes.

Lobbying hard for DACA recipients, Napolitano spearheaded a lawsuit against the Trump administration. As college campuses have exploded as epicenters of the free speech wars, Napolitano has responded deftly, pooling money to create a research center to study first amendment issues.

When Chancellor Nicholas Dirks flubbed on repeated sexual misconduct crises at UC Berkeley, Napolitano stepped in, took control and reminded the UC community that at least some leaders knew how to take sexual harassment seriously. She has helped spur the creation of sexual violence task forces, advisory boards and policy reforms at the system level.

But as students take the lead on calling for Regent Norman Pattiz’s resignation because of allegations of sexual harassment, she’s been conspicuously silent.

While Napolitano cannot structurally discipline the regents (the board is self-governed), and criticizing them might be difficult when she’s already in hot water, it’s been disheartening to hear silence from a person in power when a sexual harasser sits on the UC’s most influential governing body.

At a time when issues like sexual harassment and continually rising costs of higher education are increasingly in the limelight, we need a leader who will uphold the values of a public mission.

Napolitano can potentially be that person, but would do well to remember that her work means nothing if the president’s office shirks its responsibility to remain transparent and accountable.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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  • Ronald Pierce

    There’s far more going on than meets the public eye. And UC interference with the Auditor would appear to still be happening, below ground.

  • sgtpepper

    Point of information. The reason Janet Napolitano cannot challenge or criticize the Board of Regents, or individual regents, is that not simply that it is “self-governed,” All Regents, except the UC President, are either appointed by a sitting governor, or are ex officio (and mostly non-voting) members of the board due to their status as elected officials, or as representatives of the statewide Academic Senate. The Board is Napolitano’s boss. The board searched for,screened, and then hired her, and it can fire her if they think she’s out of line, and not a “good fit” with the rest of the board. She is on a short leash, although as a figurehead, she is presented as the one with the power to do things at UC. Pattiz–a businessman, not an educator–should not be on the board for another reason, beyond the accusation of sexual impropriety. He (and several other current regents) is serving a second 2-year term, which makes him essentially as “career regent.” This is not a good model for a university whose mission is “educational.” UC was not chartered to make money, or train young people for “real world” jobs, but to develop well-educated, thoughtful citizens for the benefit of California’s population and institutions. The current board has, collectively, violated every intention of the charterers, as well as the statutory requirements of the Master Plan for Higher Education (Morrill Act) and the requirement that there be no tuition charged to California students for their education. It’s the Regents that need to work to regain public trust, not Janet Napolitano.

  • Herbie Hanwell

    She hasn’t brought anything but trouble and corruption since she’s been the President of the system. She is a political appointee without an academic background, a sop to the university wide lesbian mafia.
    Hillary lost, and she’s less than useless

  • still trying

    She got fired from home land security. Why not from UC? Because UC Regents are lazy idiots who do not have a clue regarding reality.

    • Nunya Beeswax

      More to the point, what is someone with no experience in educational
      administration doing running a large state university system? Chalk it up to the mania for appointing outsiders to run universities. The last two University Librarians
      at Cal have been, respectively, an economist and a journalist. What do either of them know about running a library?

  • tasam1

    The question is did she ever have trust in the first place.

    • California Defender

      Nope! At least not among true Californians.

      She’s just a typical leftist New Yorker who comes to California to cheat, lie, and steal and then runs back east with a six-figure pension.

  • jim hoch

    So she came up with a plan to interfere in the audit, tasked two subordinates with carrying it out, and then fired them when word got out.

    That’s leadership!

  • John

    I predict a retirement announcement before December 31.

    • California Defender

      I’d prefer firing, but let’s take what we can get.

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