Janet Napolitano, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, will become the next President of the University of California if approved by the full Board of Regents on July 18, 2013.  (Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security). Click to enlarge.

Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, has been selected as the next president of the University of California. Credit: Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will resign her post to become the next president of the 10-campus University of California system, officials announced Friday.

Napolitano was the unanimous choice of a UC presidential search committee, which considered more than 300 candidates for the top job, said UC regent and committee chair Sherry Lansing.

“Secretary Napolitano is a distinguished and dedicated public servant who has earned trust at the highest, most critical levels of our country’s government,” Lansing said in a statement. “She has proven herself to be a dynamic, hard-working and transformative leader.”

Napolitano said she is “both honored and excited by the prospect of serving as president of the University of California,” in a statement released by the UC president’s office.

The Homeland Security chief has some familiarity with California. She is a graduate of Santa Clara University, where she was the university’s first female valedictorian. She earned her law degree from the University of Virginia.

If approved by the full Board of Regents, which is scheduled to vote on her nomination on Thursday following the regents’ regular bimonthly meeting in San Francisco, Napolitano, 55, would become the first woman to head the UC system in its 145-year history.

Though she is an attorney, Napolitano will be only the second person without a doctorate to lead the campus since Robert Gordon Sproul, who served for 30 years, from 1928 to 1958, noted John Douglass, a senior research fellow at UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education. Outgoing president Mark Yudof is also an attorney, but has extensive academic experience as chancellor of the University of Texas system and as president of the University of Minnesota.

‘Historic choice’

“Moving from the governorship of Arizona, to Homeland Security, to the head of the UC system is bound to raise eyebrows among UC faculty – who are the key constituent in the success of UC’s mission of teaching, research and public service,” Douglass said.

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, who called Napolitano’s selection “an historic choice,” agreed that Napolitano will be tested by UC faculty. “Probably the biggest part of this job that will be brand new to her is that universities operate with shared governance, where the faculty play a major role in the overall governance of the university,” Broad said, “and there probably is no stronger faculty senate than the one at the University of California.”

Douglass and Broad said the regents made a strategic decision in nominating someone with a strong record of public service and political acumen at a time when the university system is still reeling from $860 million in budget cuts over the past five years and a nearly 100 percent hike in tuition, from $5,790 in 2007-08 to $11,160 last year.

She’s going to be comfortable going to the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to advocate for more state funding to increase enrollment and invest in academic programs and research, Broad said.

“But I think mostly what she brings to UC is that she’s run a large complex organization in Homeland Security that has all of the national intelligence apparatus and a significant scientific research agenda. She knows how to get things done in a huge complicated organization,” said Broad, adding that Napolitano’s fundraising skills will also be hugely important.

Napolitano acknowledged that in choosing her, the Board of Regents signaled a change of direction for the university.

“I recognize that I am a non-traditional candidate,” she added. “In my experience, whether preparing to govern a state or to lead an agency as critical and complex as Homeland Security, I have found the best way to start is simply to listen.”

Positive response

Her nomination is receiving widespread support throughout the university and the state Capitol.

Photo from Flickr

Sproul Plaza at University of California, Berkeley. Photo from Flickr

“In my discussions with her, Secretary Napolitano clearly articulated the view that the University of California must do all it can to ensure not only that it remains the greatest public university in the world in the 21st century, but also that it moves to new heights,” said Robert Powell, chair of UC’s systemwide Academic Senate and a faculty representative on the Board of Regents. “She has deep respect for the faculty, and she will listen to what we say. She knows that, as the core of what makes UC great, the faculty must have an environment in which they can thrive as scholars and teachers.”

“Secretary Napolitano has the strength of character and an outsider’s mind that will well serve the students and faculty. It will be exciting to work with her,” Gov. Brown said in a statement.

Raquel Morales, president of the University of California Student Association, said she’s looking forward to meeting with Napolitano next week before the regents’ vote, but said she was “shocked” that the regents went public with their choice before giving students an opportunity to speak with the finalists.

Morales said the student organization wants to know what Napolitano will do to improve the climate on UC campuses, which have been beset with racial and ethnic conflicts in recent years. She also wants to talk about improving communications with students, starting with holding Board of Regents meetings at different UC campuses, a practice that ended when protesters disrupted meetings.

When President Barack Obama nominated her as the third secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano was in her second term as governor of Arizona. “The American people are safer and more secure thanks to Janet’s leadership in protecting our homeland against terrorist attacks,” Obama said in a news release. “I’ve come to rely on Janet’s judgment and advice, but I’ve also come to value her friendship. And as she begins a new chapter in a remarkable career of public service, I wish her the best of luck.”

Napolitano praised the department’s work in improving the safety of the American public. “After four plus years of focusing on these challenges, I will be nominated as the next president of the University of California to play a role in educating our nation’s next generation of leaders,” she said in a statement.

Napolitano would replace Mark Yudof, who announced in January that he is stepping down at the end of August. As president, she would oversee the 10 UC campuses, more than 234,000 undergraduate and graduate students, three national laboratories and five medical centers, with a budget of more than $24 billion.

Yudof’s annual salary is $600,000. A spokesman for UC said compensation details for Napolitano won’t be made public until the regents’ vote next week.

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