Napolitano’s presidency replete with ups, downs

UC AFFAIRS: The onus is on the selection committee to identify a replacement willing to step up to the plate

Illustration of Janet Napolitano
Alexander Hong/Senior Staff

Six years after her controversial appointment as UC president, Janet Napolitano has resigned, leaving a tumultuous tenure behind her.

Putting politicians in university leadership positions is relatively new for the UC system. Considering that traditionally, the UC president was previously an academic or higher education official, Napolitano’s appointment marked a significant change toward entrusting politicians with decisions about higher education. Should that trend continue, it’s critical that Napolitano’s replacement leverage their governmental experience to enhance the public education experience.

From the moment Napolitano took office, she faced public scrutiny for her political background — namely her work as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security — prompting the ASUC to pass a bill that would issue a vote of no confidence if she didn’t meet certain demands. But, as UC president, Napolitano made clear her support of undocumented students, citing her work in initiating Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and actively suing the Trump administration over its effort to repeal DACA. Whatever her past work might indicate, Napolitano’s recent steadfast support of undocumented students is admirable. 

With regard to sexual violence and sexual harassment, several changes to UC Title IX policy were rolled out under Napolitano in the effort to make the process fair to all parties; those changes, however, were typically criticized for potentially discouraging complainants from coming forward. Especially considering today’s climate, a university president should be unapologetically supportive of progressive sexual violence and sexual harassment initiatives.

On paper, it’s impressive that under Napolitano, in-state tuition has remained relatively flat, bolstered by state funding. But the reality is that persistent student activism was a major component of this outcome. Sacrificing time leading up to final exams, UC Berkeley students joined forces with students from other UC campuses, traveled all the way to Sacramento and successfully advocated for additional funding from the state. Napolitano’s office might have put out the statements, but the credit also belongs to the students. 

Let’s not forget that the impetus for said student advocacy was the fact that two years ago, an audit revealed that Napolitano’s own office sat on an undisclosed $175 million that effectively crushed the state’s trust in the university. Even to this day, the California state auditor has stated that the UC budgets are woefully opaque. To that end, our next leader should be one dedicated to financial transparency.  

The selection committee tasked with replacing Napolitano has a monumental decision to make with a number of factors to keep in mind. As public education — and specifically the UC system — starts to shift toward a more elite school model, it’s imperative that the new president demonstrates a commitment to upholding the ideals of a democratic education. 

Issues such as the college admissions scandal highlight a fundamental change in the way that people view attending a UC school, and our next leader must make a concerted effort to increase the university’s accessibility. The UC system is one of the most prestigious institutions in the country; Napolitano’s replacement should be worthy of taking the helm. 

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2019 opinion editor, Revati Thatte.