Homeland security chief Janet Napolitano will become the first woman to head the University of California in its 145-year history after her selection was approved Thursday by UC regents in a meeting recessed twice due to student protests.
Student regent Cinthia Flores cast the only no vote against the appointment, citing concerns over treatment of undocumented students.
In brief remarks following her selection, Napolitano acknowledged that she is not a traditional candidate to head a major public university system.
“I have not spent a career in academia, but that said, I have spent 20 years in public service advocating for it,” she said.
Before President Barack Obama named her U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano was a two-term governor of Arizona and the state’s attorney general.
Napolitano will earn a base salary of $570,000, which is $21,000 below outgoing president Mark Yudof, but $370,000 more than she earns at the Department of Homeland Security. Her compensation package also includes a one-time relocation fee of $142,500, 25 percent of her annual salary, and a yearly auto allowance of $8,916.
A series of speakers, many of whom said they were immigrants, spoke against her nomination, citing the “Secure Communities” initiative that runs information on anyone who is arrested to a federal immigration database to check their status. Developed under her watch, the initiative is designed to identify undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes, but critics say most of the people deported had no criminal record or committed only minor offenses. One student said his father was deported after the two of them were stopped by police on the way to a construction job. He said without their father’s income, the family lost its home. There are fewer than 800 undocumented undergraduates in the 10-campus UC system, according to its latest report.
Shortly after public comment, student protestors inside the meeting room began shouting, complaining that Napolitano was selected through a closed-door hiring process. The meeting was halted for several minutes and UC turned off the live internet video feed. Just before voting on Napolitano’s confirmation, a protest again shut down the meeting and the regents left the room. Six protestors were arrested on charges of unlawful assembly and disturbing the peace. The UC San Francisco police chief said they will be cited and released.
Napolitano defended herself against her critics, noting that she has been a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act, which, if approved by Congress, would provide a path to citizenship for some undocumented young people. She also put in place the Deferred Action program, providing a two-year respite from deportation for undocumented students and young veterans who meet specific criteria.
Napolitano will remain at the Department of Homeland Security until Sept. 6 and being her presidency later that month. She hailed the University of California as “the backbone of the state and beacon for the nation and the world.”