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Submission: Napolitano appointment does not bode well for UC


July 29, 2013 12:00 a.m.

Perhaps the University of California Board of Regents, Mark Yudof and others responsible for declaring Janet Napolitano UC President are simply unaware of the importance of the president’s position to the California academic community, taxpayers and worldwide university relations. A bell should sound for their attention.

The UC employs a lot of people, enrolls many, many students, and costs billions of dollars. The naming of Napolitano as UC President had no public accountability or transparency that can be pointed to beyond a press statement announcing the fact as a done deal.

In fact, some of the regents had minimal involvement and neglected to even ask questions of the candidates or the process, but rather paid lip service to their public good responsibilities.

If I were to say that Napolitano has no experience in any administrative academic position in California, it would only be evidence of the fact that the regents have kept faculty out of the loop. Obviously here, in naming a university president, the criteria for appointing a divisional dean or even a department chair in the UC or CSU system is irrelevant. Not having any experience may be an objection applying to someone running for public office, where voters can vote (sometimes a dubious proposition in Arizona). In contrast, experience must not be important for one of the most critical positions in the state with the largest population and economy of the country and an extremely diverse student enrollment demographically.

Since we do not know and were not asked, we can conjure reasons or criteria that do apply for her “naming.” Readily, one point in her favor is her intensive involvement with human and civil rights in Arizona, not for nothing considered ground zero in both civil rights and immigrant educational leadership. Moreover, as we know, she headed the Department of Homeland Security, which is aptly named with the word “security” prominently in its name. This is an agency not known for family values, but it certainly has international outreach of sorts. Thus Napolitano, as head of a sprawling security apparatus, has experience in making the lives of tens of thousands of individuals and families irredeemably miserable. If we add up the number of detentions and incarcerations, Napolitano is in a world class of her own. And yet, she finds herself at a world-class educational institution, not CEO at Judicial Watch.

One cannot dismiss her alleged skills as a moneymaker and spender, especially given her relations with private donors such as those in Phoenix politics. Finally, her best credential, which she polished in Washington, D.C., and Arizona, is that she knows the ways of politicians. She has her steady eyes and sharpened ears on Sacramento, populated by individuals who love attention.

One side benefit of her appointment, which may interest UC professors in particular, is the attention sure to be garnered by her campus visits and the security research work her prosecutorial activities have generated. Thus Napolitano’s appointment may augur well for the rest of the 21st century, and academics sometimes do need a nudge into the future.

Well, I believe a bell needs to toll in order to save the UC.

Gómez-Quiñones is a professor of history at UCLA and former director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

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