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Praise, Skepticism for UC's Choice of Napolitano

Jul 15, 2013

Credit University of California

She’s a political veteran who’s run large bureaucracies.  But Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano hasn’t worked in academia – and now she’s about to become the next president of the University of California.  As Ben Adler reports from Sacramento, the choice is drawing both praise and skepticism.

Janet Napolitano gets strong praise for her personal and political skills.

“She has great strength of character.  She’s resilient.  She can take a hit," says Peter Likins. He was University of Arizona President while Napolitano was the state’s Democratic governor.  He recalls one time during budget talks when she negotiated directly with Republican legislative leaders:

“And she had such intellectual firepower and such toughness in the negotiation that she got a remarkably good budget – out of a not only a Republican-dominated legislature but a conservative Republican legislature.  So yeah, she’s tough," says Likins.

And she’ll have to be.  Most university presidents have academic experience – and know their way through university bureaucracies.  Napolitano will have to pick that up on the job.  Likins says she’ll have no trouble with that.  But others are skeptical.  One UC faculty member described her in a blog post as “unqualified to be a university president.”  Academic experience matters, he wrote.  You wouldn’t hire a Dean of Engineering to be a police chief.

“It’s an unorthodox appointment but it’s certainly not unprecedented," says Cal State East Bay Professor Emeritus Henry Reichman. He's a board member of the American Association of University Professors.  He says the big question is what approach Napolitano will take:

“Will she bring her obvious political strength and experience to bear in fighting for the university and its faculty and students in Sacramento?  And leave the educational stuff in the hands of, the faculty, where it belongs," asks Reichman.

Many faculty are upset they’ve been left out of the search process.  The Board of Regents will vote on Napolitano’s nomination on Thursday.