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Napolitano tries to bridge gap with students during UCLA visit

UC President Janet Napolitano walks by student protesters on her way into Bruin Plate for her lunch with student leaders.

By Kristen Taketa

Oct. 14, 2013 1:53 a.m.

While protesters marched outside and called for her resignation, University of California President Janet Napolitano met with 22 students on Friday to listen to their concerns and questions as part of her tour of the UC system.

Students protest during UC President Janet Napolitano's first visit to UCLA on Friday.
Alex Hu / Daily Bruin
Students protest during UC President Janet Napolitano’s first visit to UCLA on Friday.
Napolitano did not make any promises for policy actions at the meeting, but she said she would look into various issues the students addressed. The topics ranged from increasing student diversity and establishing scholarships for undocumented students to raising revenue for the UC and expanding support for graduate and veteran students.

UCLA was Napolitano’s third UC campus visit in her first two weeks as president. She said she is focusing her first weeks in office on “just walking around” the University campuses to familiarize herself with them.

“I’m hoping these visits are the first of many,” Napolitano said to students at the luncheon. “I like being on campus; I like explaining, I like listening. It helps me focus my energies.”

She met with dozens of students, faculty and staff over the weekend, including members of the UCLA Staff Assembly and players from the women’s basketball team, said UC spokesman Steve Montiel. She flipped the coin at the UCLA vs. Cal football game. She sat in on a small Fiat Lux seminar about Indian law cases and gave the students insight from her experience as an attorney.

“(Her visit) made me feel like I could relate to her a little bit,” said Annakai Geshlider, a first-year world arts and cultures student in the Fiat Lux seminar that Napolitano visited. “She was definitely personable. She thanked each student after they spoke and she was respectful to each one.”

Her visit wasn’t met with complete welcome. While Napolitano spoke with students at Bruin Plate, about 30 protesters marched and chanted outside the dining hall for her resignation. They said her appointment was not democratic and she lacks academic experience. Protestors also cited concerns about the large number of deportations that occurred while she was the head of the Department of Homeland Security.

“(Napolitano’s appointment) is a symptom of an undemocratic institution. Her past experience doesn’t show her as being qualified,” said Janel Preciado, second-year biochemistry student and protest organizer.

Even though she does not have academic experience, Napolitano said her experience leading large, complex organizations will help her be an effective leader and advocate for funding for the UC. She added she has a good working relationship with Gov. Jerry Brown, and that she thinks the UC has an ally in Brown.

Napolitano said at the luncheon that she is looking to engage more with students and establish a good relationship with them. She said she has been looking into opening an online forum for students to submit their questions and plans to meet with the UC Student Association, which represents UC students and student governments, every quarter.

“I’m not going to tweet or Twitter or whatever – just saying,” she said, laughing. “But I want to expand the way I can converse with students … I think I’ll be a better president if I can have a good relationship with students.”

Napolitano also said her office is already looking to increase diversity at the UC, one of the concerns brought up during the luncheon.

“The reason I’m here is because this is important to me,” Napolitano said. “We’re going to keep on this – big time.”

During her Friday luncheon, Napolitano also said her office is already looking into alternative revenue solutions to present at her first UC Board of Regents meeting next month. She added that philanthropy will become increasingly important for the University, and she told students she will focus on being a “public advocate” and work to garner support for the UC. Online courses, however, won’t be reliable as a revenue solution, she said.

“That online education is a silver bullet and will solve all our funding problems – I don’t think anyone believes that anymore,” Napolitano said.

When students brought up the concerns some undocumented students have about her presidency, Napolitano said she is an advocate and supporter of undocumented students.

She pointed out that as Secretary of Homeland Security she implemented deferred action, a policy that grants temporary protection from deportation to certain individuals, and lobbied for the federal DREAM Act, which would grant permanent residency to undocumented individuals if they meet certain conditions. Napolitano said she already asked her UC office to look into finding a solution for undocumented graduate students, who cannot receive pay while working as teaching assistants because they have no Social Security numbers.

“She definitely was always mentioning that she wants to bridge the gap with students … I’m trying to bridge that gap too,” said Seth Ronquillo, a fourth-year film and linguistics student and co-chair of the student group for UCLA undocumented students called IDEAS, who was at the luncheon with Napolitano. “We expect the best out of her and we expect to hear further updates … (and) hopefully maybe making a better impression in our community.”

Napolitano said she plans to visit UCLA again in the next few months.

“I think this is a great time to be at the (UC). I think this is the best public university system anywhere and I think we can make it better,” Napolitano said at the end of the student luncheon.

“I’ll do what I can to work with you. This won’t be my last visit to UCLA,” Napolitano said in farewell to the UCLA students at the end of their meeting. “I wore my blue jacket, and I want to wear it again.”

Contributing reports from Jillian Beck and Chandini Soni, Bruin senior staff.

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