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Ear to the Ground

Napolitano to Trade Her Helmet for a Cap and Gown

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Posted on Jul 12, 2013
AP/Evan Vucci

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies on Capitol Hill in April.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has bested career academics and school administrators to be named the next president of the 10-campus University of California system, the Los Angeles Times reports. Napolitano, who has held her post in the Obama administration since 2009, is expected to begin her new job in September.

The decision is an affirmation of the claim, common among contemporary institutional cultures, that political skills and an administrative bone are more valuable in leading an organization than intimate knowledge of its peculiar needs and concerns. That means notions of business-like efficiency and values close to the state, rather than simple educational ones, may steer the UC system under Napolitano.

“UC officials believe that her Cabinet experiences—which include helping to lead responses to hurricanes and tornadoes and overseeing some anti-terrorism measures—will help UC administer its federal energy and nuclear weapons labs and aid its federally funded research in medicine and other areas,” the newspaper said.

Sherry Lansing, a university regent and former film industry executive who headed the search committee, was glowing in her appraisal of the panel’s selection. In a statement released Friday, Lansing said: “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. … She will bring fresh eyes and a new sensibility—not only to UC, but to all of California. She will stand as a vigorous advocate for faculty, students and staff at a time when great changes in our state, and across the globe, are presenting as many opportunities as challenges.”

Robert Powell, chairman of UC’s faculty senate, praised Napolitano’s “outstanding ability to deal with complex organizations under demanding circumstances.” He also stressed her political skills as being important. “When she goes to Sacramento” to deal with other officials, he said, “clearly the conversions will be on a different plane.”

At a time when American wealth for public services, including education, has been drained by plutocrats, public universities want leaders “who can bargain as peers with governors and legislators and also impress alumni and parents,” the Times wrote. “Napolitano will deal with Gov. Jerry Brown, who is a UC regent and has been pressing UC to move more quickly into online education and to improve graduation rates.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Los Angeles Times:

Napolitano, who is a Democrat, was appointed by former President Clinton as the U.S. attorney in Arizona and then won elections as state attorney general and twice as governor, a position she held from 2003 to 2009. President Obama then named her to lead Homeland Security, an agency with an annual $60-billion budget and 240,000 employees.

She has been a strong voice in favor of immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, a stance that has angered some Republicans who contend she has not done enough to secure the nation’s borders.

A source close to Napolitano, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said that Napolitano deliberated for a long time after the executive search firm hired by UC quietly contacted her.

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