UC President Janet Napolitano will headline a fundraiser Sept. 20 for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign — an unprecedented action for a UC president.
The fundraiser, which will cost attendees between $500 and $10,000, is organized by Entrepreneurs for Hillary, a group whose proceeds go to the Clinton campaign. In the group’s advertising for the event, Napolitano is identified as former secretary of Homeland Security and former governor of Arizona. Her current role as UC president is left unmentioned.
“In many ways, Napolitano is an unusual UC President: She’s had a long and productive political career; she has a lifelong role as a public servant,” said UC spokesperson Dianne Klein. “To all of a sudden stop that, I would find that surprising.”
The UC Office of General Counsel’s legal guidelines permit UC employees to support candidates for elected office in their private lives but instruct officials to “use care to avoid confusion between private and public roles.”
Presidents, chancellors and deans — as recommended by the guidelines — should include explicit disclaimers separating their personal political views from their capacity within the university. The university, according to Klein, does not have a specific process for issuing those disclaimers.
It is uncommon for top UC officials to explicitly support political candidates, Klein said. She added that Napolitano’s previous work with Clinton as secretary of Homeland Security may explain the UC president’s decision to break with tradition.
She said Napolitano’s involvement with the Clinton campaign is wholly separate from the UC president’s professional duties. Klein was informed of Napolitano’s plans to speak at the fundraiser by a reporter, not by Napolitano herself.
“It’s really nothing that’s UC business,” Klein said. “It’s what she is doing on her own time in support of her political beliefs.”
President of Berkeley College Republicans Jose Diaz said he feels that Napolitano’s political activities are inextricable from her stance as president of the university. Diaz added that he doesn’t think someone with her influence in public education should involve herself politically.
Harshil Bansal, political director of Cal Berkeley Democrats, noted that the move might alienate some students but that it remained within Napolitano’s rights as a private individual.
“No other UC president has previously endorsed any candidate for the White House, so I feel like the precedent really matters in this case,” Bansal said. “The leader of an education system taking a stance against something or for something can be problematic in my opinion.”
Regardless, Napolitano’s support for Clinton, especially at private fundraising events, is unlikely to have a significant impact on the outcome of the election, according to campus professor of political science Laura Stoker.
Despite a lack of academic research on the direct effect of endorsements on elections’ outcomes, Stoker said she would be astonished if any single endorsement would make any difference.
“I don’t think it will have any effect whatsoever on anything, with the exception of it drawing a few possible people to donate,” Stoker said. “Nothing Napolitano does or doesn’t do is going to make any difference.”
Contact Simon Greenhill at [email protected].
A previous version of this article misquoted UC spokesperson Dianne Klein as referring to UC President Janet Napolitano as a political servant. In fact, Klein was referring to Napolitano as a public servant.