The news that the secretary of homeland security would be the next president of the University of California came as a surprise. While we are supportive of the unique experiences Janet Napolitano can bring, she has a lot to learn and a long way to go to convince dissenters that her past actions will not mean bad decisions for the UC system.
Under Napolitano, the Department of Homeland Security instituted the federal program “Secure Communities,” which deports undocumented immigrant offenders from the United States with the support of local police agencies. The program is rife with controversy, as there have been many reports that immigrants have been deported due to minimal offenses. On the other hand, Napolitano has come out in support of the federal DREAM Act and has said she is in support of varied paths to citizenship. As head of a university with a fair number of Latino and minority students and an even larger Latino population statewide, Napolitano needs to be open to educating all types of students and recognize that some of them might be undocumented.
There is also apprehension about Napolitano’s handling of budget cuts to her department during the sequester and her role in overseeing more vigorous airport search practices. In light of the events of Occupy Cal and the pepper-spray incident at UC Davis, Napolitano needs to ensure UC police are not militarized.
Napolitano’s apparent lack of significant educational experience is also concerning, though as the former governor of Arizona, she has proven herself a proponent of that state’s higher education system. In that role, she expanded the state’s higher education budget in order to raise the capacity of students accepted to the state’s universities, bolster financial aid and provide raises to university faculty. Ideas she has presented as governor could make her an appealing choice — among those ideas are a four year fixed tuition rate and doubling the number of bachelor’s degrees earned by the end of the next decade. This type of innovative leadership is what the UC desperately needs right now.
Still, Napolitano is presented with the difficult task of learning the ins and outs of academia and how much of a role research plays in maintaining the university’s level of prestige. She should utilize the number of promising advisers at her disposal to help her along, including Aimee Dorr, the UC provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, who has committed herself to retaining the university’s academic excellence.
We believe choosing Napolitano is indicative of the UC Board of Regents preparing for a more privatized future with decreased reliance on the state. With her high profile political status, Napolitano brings connections that might prove useful when it comes to financial and political support on the federal level. Napolitano has also already recognized the priority of forming and maintaining university connections by immediately calling the president of the University of California Student Association after her selection was announced to discuss UC issues.
The selection of Napolitano has forever changed the trajectory of what types of candidates can be picked to run the UC system. Ultimately, Napolitano has to work to keep the priorities of UC students, faculty and staff, as well as those of the state of California, at the forefront of her agenda. We hope that her choice to resign as the leader of a powerful federal department and come to the UC system demonstrates her commitment to do that.