The worst part about Janet Napolitano’s offhanded remark Wednesday was not that she called a student demonstration “crap.” It’s that she said, “We don’t have to listen to this.”
Because she does. That is precisely her job.
Napolitano made the comment to Bruce Varner, chair of the UC Board of Regents, before they and other regents temporarily left the meeting. At the time of her remark, protesters were shouting, undressing and throwing fake money to denounce tuition hikes as well as construction of UC Berkeley’s Richmond Bay campus.
If she cannot listen to students, how can she expect to have a dialogue with her biggest detractors? It’s true that student protesters are often unwilling to do their parts at the table — we saw that when student leaders walked out of a meeting with Napolitano, and we see it when drowning the regents with hollering consistently trumps hearing them out.
So it is understandable that Napolitano, who has admittedly received a disproportionate degree of blame during her time as UC president, would feel the urge to use crass language while heading the entire university system and trying to secure higher funding levels from Sacramento.
Nonetheless, we hold Napolitano and her colleagues to a higher standard. And we will continue holding her to that standard so long as she is being paid to lead the University of California.
If nothing else, the Wednesday incident illuminated Napolitano’s underlying feelings toward her critics that she rarely reveals. In the past, she has typically expressed sympathy to students who vocally disagree with her.
Napolitano’s half-apology Thursday did not undo the damage to her perception she incurred the previous day. Moreover, her sentiment that “we have public comment to listen to comments about serious things expressed seriously” is flawed. Although unconventional, the way the protesters expressed themselves was intended to be taken seriously and to attract the attention of UC leaders. The substance of serious matters is more important than how those matters are presented. And that needs to be heard by the people behind the table.
Editorials represent the collective opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.