UC President Janet Napolitano talks diversity, online education

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Since taking the helm of the University of California at the end of September, UC President Janet Napolitano has been faced with fighting for university funding as the state continues to hash out its 2014-15 budget, challenges from students over campus and university sexual assault policy and addressing on-campus diversity, among other issues.

The Daily Californian sat down with Napolitano at her office in Oakland on Friday to talk about these and other long-standing issues the university will continue to face in the coming months and years. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

The Daily Californian: Could you tell us day-to-day what it’s like being a UC president? What does it look like when you come here in the morning?

Janet Napolitano: No day is a standard day — you begin with that. Some days you’re here (at the office), some days you’re at a campus, some days you’re in Sacramento, some days you may be in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the university. You know, the weeks kind of fly by.

Right now, we’re in the middle of budget reviews for each of the campuses, so after this I will be spending two hours with the leadership team from UC Davis going through their budget. I’ll work my way over the next two weeks through each of the campuses.

DC: There are three vacancies on the UC Board of Regents. Students and others are hoping Gov. Jerry Brown is going to appoint more academics to those vacancies. What type of candidates do you hope Brown supports?

JN: It’s really up to the governor, and as a former governor, I’m leery to offer that kind of advice. Those kinds of appointments are things that you hold near and dear. I think the governor will look at a variety of things. He’ll look at diversity in a lot of different ways — not just demographic diversity, but also skill diversity, knowledge diversity and experiential diversity.

DC: Online education has gained some significant support from the regents over the years and from the governor. Sometimes, it’s been touted as a way to address disinvestment in higher education or save money. What role do you think online education should play in higher education and in the university?

JN: I think we’re past the notion that online (education) is a silver bullet, but I do think online is here to stay. So the question is how should it be done and what role should it play. (Online education) can be used to supplement or complement what the university offers but not to substitute for what the university offers. It will add to the number of tools we have to provide a higher education, but it’s certainly not the only tool in the tool box.

DC: Thirty-one current and former UC Berkeley students filed federal complaints against the campus last month for allegedly mishandling sexual assault and harassment cases. Around that same time, the university released its new sexual harassment and violence policy. What else can the university do to help survivors and all students, and do you think the university did enough in the past?

JN: The new policy says what I believe, which is to say we will not tolerate that sort of behavior on our campus. We need to provide support for the survivors, and we also need to make sure there are consequences for the perpetrators.

The timing (of the new UC policy) was interesting because you could infer that there was a cause-and-effect relationship (with the students’ federal complaints), but in fact, the policy had been under way for quite some time. We will continue to make some changes to it as we move forward, but we begin with the basic principle that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated and that people on our campuses need to treat each other with respect. I want to make sure that in this area, that ethos is preserved.

DC: Proposition 209 limits the university in a lot of ways in regards to what can be done about diversity, but the representation of underrepresented minorities is still considered extremely low by many. What’s your take on tackling the issue of diversity? How can your office do more to foster racial and socioeconomic diversity throughout the system?

JN: One of the things that we can do is make sure that we are not overreading Prop. 209. We are following it — that’s the law — but (we need to make sure) that we’re not inserting into it things that aren’t covered. By way of example, (I don’t think) outreach into high schools, lower socioeconomic areas (and) areas where there’s a larger population of historically underrepresented groups (are) covered by (Proposition) 209. We can do more to make sure that our campuses understand that, that our recruitment and admissions personnel understand that, and that we are really looking at areas of the state where we could recruit much more effectively.

Secondly, there is the transfer student initiative that I’ve got started. We find that many students from first-generation families and historically underrepresented groups start at community college. We want to make that transfer process, from a two-year to a four-year degree, as smooth and effective as possible and there are a number of actions we’re undertaking to ensure that. I think that will have an impact on diversity.

DC: Across your listening tour of the UC campuses, you had a lot of extremely productive conversations with students and faculty. But still there’s a select group of people who intensely oppose you — especially in your visit to UC Berkeley. There was not only a large public demonstration but also a walkout in your meeting with undergraduate students. Do you think the resistance was more pronounced than the opposition you encountered at other campuses during your listening tour?

JN: Yes, I think it was. The vast majority of my student meetings had been very productive and interesting and good discussions. I think the behavior by that one group of undergraduates was unacceptable.

A university is a place for discussion and dialogue and asking questions. You can ask hard questions — I’m happy to answer hard questions. And in the end, you may not agree with me, and I may not agree with you, but we’ve had a civil discussion. The notion of reading some letters and then walking out is just unacceptable to me on a university campus.

DC: In February, the Legislative Analyst’s Office advised the legislature to take the UC back to a workload budget and increase funding beyond Brown’s proposal by $44 million but said that $78 million of total funding under their would come from tuition hikes. As the state continues to mull over its own budget strategy, what are your biggest concerns when it comes to the budget and what are the biggest priorities you’re working to address right now?

JN: That’s one of the reasons I’ve been in Sacramento, is working on (the budget). The governor’s budget is a good starting place, but it’s a starting place. We want to maintain the tuition freeze for 2014-15 which we’ve already announced, so the LAO’s inclusion of a tuition hike is not something that I think the governor wants, nor do we.

There is room for discussion about extra funding that will help us with faculty recruitment and retention, with student-faculty ratios (and) with graduate student support, among other things. We are working very hard with Sacramento on the things I believe the university will need to maintain its excellence moving forward.

Contact Megan Messerly, Libby Rainey, Connor Grubaugh and Daniel Tutt at [email protected].