New leadership is a chance to reevaluate UC identity

UC AFFAIRS: At the end of the day, what the university does matters.

Illustration of California with sun behind it
Alexander Hong/Senior Staff

As 2020 approaches, so does the dawn of a new era for the UC system. With a search committee actively looking for a new president, the university has a chance to reassess and reaffirm what role it plans to play in an increasingly polarized environment.

In an interview with The Daily Californian’s editorial board, UC President Janet Napolitano talked about the challenges that come with overseeing the most advanced higher education system in the world. The university does manage to succeed in a number of areas, despite the dozens of components that play a role in its operation. While we cannot deny the system’s complexity, the university needs to start assessing its goals in a realistic way. The time for nebulous ideas is behind us — we need actionable promises.

For starters, the university can’t afford to shy away from leading the charge on environmental issues. Napolitano spoke at length about the UC system’s climate initiatives, pointing to the university’s 2025 net carbon neutrality goal, which the university is on track to meet as of September. But considering how rapidly the climate is deteriorating, we need to be more aggressive in our environmental endeavors. Given how miserably the Zero Waste 2020 initiative failed, it’s critical that the university meticulously define measurable checkpoints in minimizing our carbon footprint.

But as we’ve seen with situations such as with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, other issues arise that necessitate adaptability from the UC system. The university can’t always foresee what issues will affect the UC population. Just as Napolitano rose to DACA’s defense immediately after its existence was threatened, it’s imperative that the university keep the well-being of its students at the forefront of its future planning.

It’s difficult to juggle the inherent politicization of various topics while running a public university system that hosts a slew of ideological beliefs. The UC system must recognize, however, that certain issues transcend partisanship. Students have already shown that they have the fortitude to advocate for and achieve tangible change on behalf of their education, from local efforts all the way up to the national level. It’s time for the UC system to take up the mantle and set a clear example for institutions throughout the country by keeping education at the heart of every endeavor.

Above all, the concept of education must remain free from politicization. A university system as renowned as the UC system has the unique ability to provide opportunity to hundreds of thousands of students — as Napolitano herself told the editorial board, public higher education systems are good for everyone. Regardless of the wide range of political ideologies within the UC system, it’s a universal truth that an educated society is a stronger society.

As the sun sets on Napolitano’s term, here’s hoping that her successor and the UC system as a whole put education at the core of each initiative — after all, an educated populace creates a brighter future.

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