Napolitano makes progress

UNIVERSITY ISSUES: UC President Janet Napolitano has started to address criticism of her record with a new aid plan for undocumented students

Since she was announced in mid-July as the pick to be the next president of the University of California, Janet Napolitano has endured much criticism. Pegged by many as a government official responsible for anti-immigrant policies and the actions of the much maligned Department of Homeland Security, Napolitano was rightfully called out for being the human face of a repressive, anti-immigrant bureaucracy.

However, with her unveiling Wednesday night of a $15 million initiative to provide aid to the university’s undocumented students, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers — $5 million to each category — Napolitano has begun to  answer her critics.

In her speech in San Francisco introducing the proposal, Napolitano told the audience that “the California dream, and all that the phrase invokes, must not be allowed to die off with the baby boomers.” Her plan, which draws funding from discretionary reserves, is a meaningful step toward keeping the dream alive.

At present, the university faces tough obstacles luring high-quality graduate students and researchers, largely because of the seemingly eternal UC budget woes. For the university’s legions of graduate students and postdocs, Napolitano’s $10 million of aid is a start to addressing this problem.

The other $5 million is set aside for establishing resources including advisers, financial assistance and student service centers for undocumented students. While throwing money at the problem won’t undo the human damage caused by deportations, it does show she cares about undocumented students.

In recent weeks, Napolitano has held “listening and learning” sessions on various UC campuses to find out more about the university and the challenges it faces. Her $5 million allocation for undocumented students seems in part a lesson learned from such sessions. But it’s not the whole story.

Student governments at UC San Diego and UC Irvine unanimously passed no confidence measures in Napolitano. UC Berkeley’s ASUC Senate passed a similar, more complex bill that said the senate would commit to a vote of no confidence in Napolitano if she did not meet specific demands by mid-October. Bills such as these surely helped to generate the pressure necessary to force Napolitano to tackle her spotty record on the issue of undocumented immigrants’ rights.

That said, some amount of credit is due to Napolitano simply because her responsiveness to student needs and concerns is a far cry from the distant nature of former UC president Mark Yudof. When Occupy Cal protesters were beaten by UCPD officers in fall 2011, Yudof failed to adequately apologize on behalf of the university or forcefully condemn the brutal police crackdown.

In contrast, when faced with campuses articulating concerns about the anti-immigrant policies of the Department of Homeland Security, Napolitano responded by allocating resources for undocumented students.

Fifteen million dollars may not dramatically affect the status quo, but it is hopefully a sign of more substantial policy changes from Napolitano in the future.