UC regents formally chastise Janet Napolitano for role in state audit interference

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The UC Board of Regents admonished UC President Janet Napolitano for approving a plan that led to her office’s interference in a state audit of its operations.

At a special regents meeting Thursday, regents chair George Kieffer issued a statement on behalf of the board criticizing Napolitano’s judgment. The regents have directed Napolitano to evaluate the culture within the UC Office of the President that may have led to the interference, according to Kieffer.

“The president’s decision … reflected poor judgment and set in motion a course of conduct that the regents find unacceptable,” Kieffer said at the meeting.

He added, however, that the board maintains confidence in Napolitano and supports her continued leadership.

The investigation into Napolitano’s office, ordered by the regents, found that two of her top executives interfered with confidential state auditor’s surveys of all 10 UC campuses, resulting in skewed responses that favored the university. Between Oct. 20 and Oct. 25, 2016, Napolitano’s then-chief of staff Seth Grossman and then-deputy chief of staff Bernie Jones exchanged texts, emails and phone calls regarding how to respond to the surveys. These communications involved other senior officials at UCOP’s Oakland headquarters, including Napolitano herself in one instance, according to the investigation report.

UCOP committed four specific acts that constituted interference, the report stated.

According to the report, UCOP directed UC campuses to have the survey responses reviewed and approved by each campus’s respective chancellor and instructed the campuses to submit the survey responses to UCOP for review before submission to the state auditor.

UCOP then informed campuses that the survey responses were not the time to “air dirty laundry” and, after reviewing the responses submitted by the campuses, it requested that some campuses reconsider “Poor” or “Fair” ratings, the investigation found.

Napolitano has acknowledged the approval of a plan that involved the first two acts of interference detailed in the investigation report. Grossman and Jones admitted that they reviewed campuses’ survey responses and provided campuses with written and oral comments, according to the report.

Grossman and Jones both resigned last week.

Napolitano said at the special regents meeting that she accepted the results of the board’s investigation, as well as the actions the board has taken in response. She added that she has taken steps to “ensure that this does not happen again.”

“I made this decision. I made a serious error in judgment,” Napolitano said at the meeting. “I personally apologize to each member of this board.”

The board will take action in January with respect to policies and bylaws that will strengthen regents’ oversight of UCOP, Kieffer said at the meeting. A state bill that implements a penalty of up to $5,000 for the obstruction of state audits will also take effect in January.

Harini Shyamsundar is the university news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hshyamsundar.