UC President Janet Napolitano hosted a webchat with various students Tuesday, fielding concerns about tuition, aid for student groups and the status of her announced plans for the university since taking office in late September.
The Google Hangout was the first-ever online forum planned by the UC president as part of a larger effort to reach out to various constituencies from the UC community. The hour-long chat solicited concerns about the difficulties facing a number of student groups, including transfer students, undocumented students and student-veterans.
“One of the (reasons for) this Google chat was that many students said, ‘Is there a way we can stay in touch with you? Is there a way we can have more frequent interaction?’ ” Napolitano said during the webchat.
Napolitano took questions from a panel of students — including UC Student Regent Cinthia Flores, ASUC External Affairs Vice President and board chair of the UC Student Association Safeena Mecklai, Student Veterans Organization President Paul Malone and others — through video chat. She also responded to certain questions from online viewers.
During the webchat, Napolitano said she is exploring the idea of an online portal that would help students at community colleges plan their transfers to the university early. In a later part of the discussion, she responded to questions about the university’s budget for 2014-15, expressing confidence that the state may change its stated contribution to the UC system in the coming months of negotiations.
She also announced she will be meeting with a veteran’s advisory group for the first time Friday, with whom she will be discussing the unique challenges the UC system’s some 1,600 military veterans face.
“We have a lot of extra costs that aren’t going to be associated with your average 18- to 22-year-old,” Malone said to Napolitano.
About 540 viewers tuned in, according to the UC Office of the President. But not all participants were happy with the interaction the video chat allowed. As Napolitano addressed a variety of issues facing the UC system, comments piled up on the side of the screen, demanding explanation for her involvement in deportations when she was Secretary of Homeland Security before arriving at the university.
The top comment read, “Are you planning on bringing back the parents you previously deported for their children’s upcoming graduations?” Other webcast viewers voted for this question 41 times.
UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said many of the online participants were just using the forum to protest and not to ask questions.
“Those questions were not questions — they were protests and accusations that she has dealt with before,” Klein said. “The purpose of this was not to engage in a polemic; it was to engage in a discussion and hear the opinions of others, and I think that was accomplished.”
Napolitano discussed undocumented students and labor relations during the forum, noting that she planned to meet with undocumented students this week to discuss the $5 million parcel she awarded to UC campuses for the undocumented community in October and other issues undocumented students continue to face. Still, some protesters remained unimpressed.
“How can Napolitano engage with students if she doesn’t even answer their questions?” wrote UC Berkeley student Caitlin Carnes on the public forum associated with Napolitano’s video forum after the session ended.
Despite some concern, Flores said in a Tuesday interview with The Daily Californian that she considered the Google Hangout an “effective” method of engaging the student body.
This was the first in a series of webchats for Napolitano, who said she will be planning similar forums with UC faculty and staff in the coming weeks.