‘Big Sis’ bad choice for UC

by Steven Greenhut | July 22, 2013 10:03 am

Editor’s note: This is Steven Greenhut’s final column for CalWatchDog.com, which he started in 2009. He is the new Sacramento columnist for the U-T San Diego[1]. We wish him well in his new job. Feel free to contact him at: [email protected].

Janet Napolitano Center for American ProgressFromFlickr[2]July 22, 2013

By Steven Greenhut

SACRAMENTO — With its 10 campuses, nearly 200,000 staff and $20 billion annual budget, the University of California system is emblematic of the state government that pays a portion of UC’s bills: enormous, unruly, overly expensive, steeped in politics, dominated by unions and other special-interest groups and plagued with controversy.

California voters in 2010 turned the reins of government over to Jerry Brown, who has — despite his whimsical rhetoric — governed as the ultimate status-quo politician, protecting the state bureaucracy from reform.

Likewise, the UC regents have decided to choose a status-quo candidate as president, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Regent Sherry Lansing said in a statement[3] that some might find Napolitano to be an “unconventional choice,” but that’s incorrect. Napolitano is as conventional a choice as you could make to run a large bureaucracy, even if she has no serious academic experience.

Based on her tenure in the federal government, she will be an advocate for higher spending, expanded unionization and more of everything that has undermined the university system.

Just when the UC system needed someone who might implement competitive reforms and focus on cost-cutting, the regents turn to a Washington insider more apt to keep federal funds flowing and student aid primed than to stretch the large budget already in place.

The University of California has been embroiled in many scandals in recent years. In one case, administrators enriched themselves, their friends and lovers, even as they were hiking tuition rates for students.

Academic mansion

According to a 2010 article in the Bay Citizen[4], when outgoing President Mark Yudof took the helm amid a financial crisis, he “moved with his wife into a 10,000-square-foot, four-story house with 16 rooms, 8 bathrooms and panoramic views.” It cost UC more than $13,000 a month. While Yudof is credited for reducing the system’s massive pension problems, he was widely criticized for significantly increasing the living standards of UC leaders and for imposing large tuition hikes[5] on students while he spent his time lobbying at the state Capitol for more money.

One of the common threads in the UC scandals is the sense of privilege and elitism exhibited by those who run the system, combined with their desire for more taxpayer cash and to evade accountability. The Yudof situation came after a 2007 episode, in which “UC President Robert Dynes and the governing Board of Regents … handed out more than $1 million in extra pay and perks to about 70 top executives,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle[6].

The university system also has struggled with ethical problems involving doctors accused of performing unauthorized brain research on dying patients and UC fertility doctors who used stolen human eggs and embryos. The University of California system seems to endure more of these things than other large universities.

The Sacramento Bee noted that Napolitano’s selection “marks a shift from academia to politics[7].” That’s almost right. UC has always been deeply involved in politics, but now it dispenses with the veneer of academic priorities.

As Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Hesperia put it[8], “After failing to secure the border, ignoring the Fast and Furious scandal [9]that killed one of the agents serving under her command, and leading the invasive and ineffective Transportation Security Administration, it’s honestly hard to imagine what Janet Napolitano thinks she can do for California’s UC system.”

He’s missing the point. Napolitano will do nothing for UC, which is why she was chosen. She will handle UC’s problems in the same way she handled the scandals within her department in the federal government. She will dodge, weave, stonewall, attack critics and lobby for more money.


That’s why the UC establishment is so thrilled to have her. And it’s why Napolitano and the UC leadership — not to mention the state’s Democratic leaders — have not said anything of substance about the university’s problems as they announced her selection. According to all the speeches, this is about Napolitano being an incredible leader whose love of education will help her lead an even more incredible institution.

It’s also unsettling to have someone with “Big Sis’s” authoritarian background running an educational institution that is supposed to value open debate and free speech. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, touched on Napolitano’s[10] “poor record on civil liberties and government transparency” and expressed fears about her “authoritarian management style.”

His points about civil liberties are well taken given the UC system’s own problems on that front after a UC Davis police officer nonchalantly pepper-sprayed students[11] and Occupy protesters in 2011. The officer no longer works for the university, but UC was less than forceful in the way it handled this matter.

If the system were looking for someone to maintain the status quo, it would have been better at least to go with an accomplished educator. Napolitano is not such a person, which is bad news for taxpayers, students and the state of California.

  1. the U-T San Diego: http://www.utsandiego.com/
  2. [Image]: http://www.calwatchdog.com/2012/07/26/getting-cable-and-watching-the-political-animals/janet-napolitano-center-for-american-progressfromflickr/
  3. said in a statement: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2013/07/12/2580894/state-uc-leaders-praise-napolitano.html
  4. article in the Bay Citizen: https://www.baycitizen.org/news/education/uc-presidents-housing-raises-ire-and/
  5. large tuition hikes: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/uc-tuition-increases
  6. reported the San Francisco Chronicle: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/UNIVERSITY-OF-CALIFORNIA-Extra-pay-perks-2592268.php
  7. marks a shift from academia to politics: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/07/13/5563959/janet-napolitano-picked-as-uc.html
  8. Tim Donnelly of Hesperia put it: http://arc.asm.ca.gov/member/AD33/?p=article&sid=427&id=255889
  9. Fast and Furious scandal : http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-05-21/fast-and-furious-scandal-returns-to-haunt-obama
  10. touched on Napolitano’s: http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/napolitano-homeland-security-resigns/2013/07/12/id/514813
  11. pepper-sprayed students: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/UC-Davis-pepper-sprayed-students-settle-3896116.php

Source URL: https://calwatchdog.com/2013/07/22/uc-doesnt-need-napolitano/