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Napolitano’s political past sparks disagreement

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano delivered a lecture at the UCLA Anderson School of Management in April 2012 about the role and responsibilities of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

See our full coverage of the UC presidential nominee.

By Kristen Taketa

July 15, 2013 2:04 a.m.

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 by the entire UC Board of Regents after its regular meeting this Thursday, 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 of the governing Board of Regents, meeting with University officials – primarily serving as the face of the University.

Several public figures such as President Barack Obama, 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 Napolitano’s nomination.

But many students disagree with the choice. Though Napolitano has advocated for immigration reform in the past, some undocumented students said they were offended the regents chose a nominee who has also deported a record numbers of individuals from the U.S.

“This is our school’s leadership and they’re not even considering the experiences of undocumented students,” said Seth Ronquillo, a fourth-year film and linguistics student and co-chair of IDEAS, a student group for UCLA undocumented students. “Just consider if there’s an undocumented student in the UC whose family member has been deported because of Napolitano’s policy.”

A petition started by students on calls for the UC regents to reject Napolitano at their meeting Thursday.

Ronquillo also said he was upset that the nomination came as such a surprise to students. He said students should have been consulted more during the search for the president and before the nominee was announced.

In a statement released late Friday, UC Student Association President Raquel Morales said she welcomes Napolitano as the next and first female president. She 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.

Others said they were cautiously optimistic about Napolitano, saying her lack of an academic background might hinder her ability to run the UC.

“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 the student advisory committee during the presidential search. “I do worry a little bit that she hasn’t had much experience in the education sector.”

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.

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.”

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.

In addition to voting on the new UC president, the regents will set the salary for the next UC executive at their meeting on Thursday. Yudof currently earns about $591,000 a year, while Napolitano earns about $200,000.

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Kristen Taketa
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