Pressure building on Napolitano over dubious UC testimony

Pressure is building on University of California President Janet Napolitano after the San Francisco Chronicle obtained two batches of official documents that appeared to show Napolitano was untruthful in her testimony at a joint legislative oversight hearing May 2 at the Capitol.

The focus of the hearing was a scathing audit prepared at the Legislature’s request and released by State Auditor Elaine Howle on April 25. It alleged Napolitano’s office had hid $175 million in reserve funds from the regents and the public while the UC president successfully orchestrated approval of a tuition hike. In her testimony, Napolitano succeeded in raising questions about the fairness of that allegation by asserting that most of the reserve dollars had been committed to worthwhile programs.

But Napolitano’s attempt to explain away Howle’s second most serious allegation – that her aides had interfered with the audit by rewriting comments from individual UC campuses to make them more favorable to Napolitano’s office – has backfired. She denied that there was any attempt to make her office look good and asserted that the remarks were revised to make them accurate and that campuses had sought guidance on how to respond.

The claim seemed shaky to some lawmakers, based on their subsequent questions. Napolitano’s office wasn’t even supposed to have seen the responses – audit officials specifically told UC campus authorities that their responses would be confidential.

But two Chronicle articles in the past week have made Napolitano’s remarks seem not just misleading but deceptive. They laid out how documents and emails from Napolitano’s aides to individual campuses didn’t reflect attempts to correct errors or give guidance. Instead, they sought for the responses to be rewritten to offer more praise for Napolitano’s office – just as Howle’s audit alleged.

7 UC Santa Cruz ratings of Napolitano office upgraded

The first article’s most telling detail was how UC Santa Cruz withdrew its official response after a conversation between Napolitano and Chancellor George Blumenthal.

The second article was based on official emails and documents that laid out Napolitano’s seeming determination to prevent individual campuses from giving Howle any ammunition with which to criticize UC and her office. Last year, Napolitano authorized the release of an unusual 31-page report denouncing a previous Howle audit that criticized UC’s system-wide decision to deny admission over the previous decade to more than 4,000 qualified in-state students in favor of admitting out-of-state and foreign students who pay far higher tuition – thus enabling UC to balance its budget without any belt-tightening.

“The surveys and previously unreleased emails show that administrators at UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego and UC Irvine removed criticism of Napolitano’s office or upgraded performance ratings in key areas at the direction of Napolitano’s staff,” wrote Chronicle reporter Nanette Asimov. “The interference – including a system-wide conference call conducted by the president’s office to coordinate responses among all campuses – prompted Howle to discard all the results as tainted.”

The second batch of documents indicated why Napolitano may have been particularly perturbed with the responses of UC Santa Cruz officials and why she personally spoke with Blumenthal, the campus’ chancellor, about them.

The Chronicle article noted that after the Office of the President’s intervention, Santa Cruz officials upgraded the ratings they had given Napolitano’s office in seven categories. One “poor” rating was changed to “good.” Three “fair” ratings were changed to “good.” And three “good” ratings were changed to “excellent.”

On Wednesday, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva called for Napolitano to resign. While several other state lawmakers have been harshly critical of the UC president, the Los Angeles Times reported that Quirk-Silva is the first to specifically say Napolitano must go.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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