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While University of California administrators and political leaders applauded Janet Napolitano’s nomination as the next UC president Friday, some have said her record on immigration reform would cause dissatisfaction in the UC community.
Early Friday morning, UC officials announced the nomination of Napolitano, the current Secretary of Homeland Security and former Arizona Governor, to replace outgoing UC president Mark Yudof. He will formally step down on Aug. 31.
“While some may consider her to be an unconventional choice, Secretary Napolitano is without a doubt the right person at the right time to lead this incredible University,” said former Regents Chair Sherry Lansing, who also chaired the Regents’ Special Committee to Consider the Selection of a President, in a statement.
If approved, Napolitano will be the first female and most high-profile UC president in the University’s 145-year history.
The UC president’s duties include working with legislators on higher education matters, serving as an ex-officio member on the governing Board of Regents, meeting with University officials – primarily serving as the face of the University.
President Barack Obama, and other public figures like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. John McCain, Gov. Jerry Brown and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block expressed their congratulations and support Friday, following her nomination.
Others said they think Napolitano’s lack of an academic background may hinder her ability to run such a prestigious University.
“I am still trying to wrap my head around it because she is a very nontraditional choice; she wasn’t someone that I had expected,” said Angela Arunarsirakul, a UCLA alumna who served on a student advisory committee in the presidential search. “I do worry a little bit that she hasn’t had much experience in the education sector.”
UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association Council President John Joanino also said he is apprehensive about Napolitano’s lack of academic experience.
“It’s a great opportunity for the UC for a woman president and I think she’ll do a great job,” he said. “But at the same time I do have some reservations when it comes to background, partly her lack of experience working in education.”
Napolitano’s political record has also been a source of concern.
Though Napolitano has advocated for immigration reform in the past, including a federal DREAM Act that would give citizenship to undocumented students, a record number of undocumented individuals were deported under her administration.
“The reality is that under her leadership … the administration has deported more undocumented people than any other president in history, and the UC has been a welcoming space for undocumented students,” said Gregory Cendana, former USAC internal vice president and the current executive director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance in Washington, D.C.
Arunarsirakul said she is concerned about how Napolitano will work with the UC students who want to see immigration reform and students who have immigrated from other countries or are undocumented themselves.
[Updated at 7:15 p.m. In a statement released late Friday, UC Student Association President Raquel Morales said she welcomes Napolitano as the next and first female president.
Morales also acknowledged that many UC students are concerned about Napolitano's record in immigration policy.
"We expect that Ms. Napolitano will protect the rights of all students, regardless of documentation status, and that she continues her advocacy for the Federal DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform," Morales said.]
Robert Powell, chair of the UC Academic Senate who was heavily involved in the search process, said Napolitano was partly chosen because she has a political background and provides the skill set necessary to work with legislators in Sacramento and advocate for higher education.
“She’s clearly got the capacity to speak to the governor and have blunt conversations about … the trade-offs they need to make,” Powell said.
He added that he thinks she will be able to articulate the UC’s needs well to Brown and officials in Washington regarding issues like sequestration cuts to research funding at the UC.
“This is somebody who can build coalitions with other college presidents, go to Washington and try to get part of the sequester lifted,” he said. “There’s a whole realm of things she is uniquely situated to do.”
Gerard Au, a UCLA alumnus, former president of the UCLA Staff Assembly and chief information officer for the UCLA School of Nursing, said he had mixed reactions about the decision.
“I just think higher education is a unique organization, which has so many faces – research, public service, education,” Au said. “Hopefully she can balance all of those pieces … and be able to lead all parts.”
Au added that the Council of UC Staff Assemblies has had a good working relationship with Yudof, and he hopes this can continue under Napolitano’s leadership.
Napolitano was chosen after months of a formal presidential selection process, and from a list of more than 300 potential candidates, Powell said.
Various designated UC committees, with the help of a search firm, interviewed candidates and whittled down the list before sending their input to the Regent Special Committee to Consider the Selection of a President, which had the final say, Powell said.
The UC Board of Regents will vote on Napolitano’s nomination after its regular board meeting on Thursday next week, said Brooke Converse, UC spokeswoman.
Others reacted to the news on Twitter:
What do you think of Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s nomination as the next #UC president? Tweet us your thoughts.
— Daily Bruin (@dailybruin) July 12, 2013
— Gerard Au (@GerardAu) July 12, 2013
@dailybruin The greatest public University in the world deserves a leader that has at least 1 MINUTE of experience in academia. I’m appalled
— Tony Leadholm (@TonyLeadholm) July 12, 2013
Correction: Gerard Au, a UCLA alumnus, former president of the UCLA Staff Assembly and chief information officer for the UCLA School of Nursing, said the Council of UC Staff Assemblies has had a good working relationship with outgoing UC president Mark Yudof.