.The Napolitano Complex

GTW082213What does the arrival of the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security at the helm of the UC mean for higher education in California?

In September, Janet Napolitano will leave her post as the United States’ Secretary of Homeland Security in Washington D.C. and head west to Oakland, Calif., where she will assume duties as the 20th president of the University of California system.

As she prepares to take the reins of one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, her background as the chief administrator of the world’s most powerful surveillance and security organization promises to be her greatest strength—and quite possibly her greatest weakness.

Napolitano takes over for outgoing UC President Mark Yudof at the beginning of the fall semester and the shift will represent a number of UC firsts: the first non-academic president, the first politician, and first female president in the UC system’s 145-year history. Yudof, 68, who resigned for health reasons but plans to teach law at UC Berkeley, officially steps down Aug. 31. Napolitano is 56.

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While her experience as a two-time governor of Arizona and at the helm of Homeland Security speaks well for her ability to manage a large, complex and politically charged organization, her record on immigration enforcement, as well as her central role in national security, weigh in heavily on her curriculum vitae.  As she was being confirmed as the UC’s new president at a July 18 regents meeting at the UC San Francisco campus, UC student protestors—including several from UC Santa Cruz—were forcibly removed from the room by police for speaking out in objection to her appointment because of her role in the nation’s highest number of undocumented citizen deportations in U.S. history. The protestors claimed that the enforcement legacy alone makes Napolitano unfit to serve as president of the UC.

UCSC senior Jacob Velasquez, a member of El Centro Chicano Latino Resource Center, expressed to GT his discontent with the regents selecting Napolitano for president.

“Napolitano has no experience in higher education, which begs the question about her consideration for the position in the first place,” Velasquez says. “The experience she does bring to the table is in the field of security, surveillance, intelligence, immigration, and border control, all of which are the antithesis of the nature of a university. [A university] should be a safe, cultivating environment for students to freely exchange ideas regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, or political views.”

The UC Board of Regents voted 25 to 1 in favor of Napolitano. The sole dissenting vote was cast by a student Regent and UC Irvine law student named Cinthia Flores. Flores expressed the same views as the protestors.

But what’s really at stake—for Napolitano, for the UC system and, perhaps more importantly, for the students within that system?


Steve Montiel, media relations director for the UC Office of the President, acknowledges that while Napolitano represents a clear departure from the UC’s tradition of appointing presidents with substantial backgrounds in higher education and academic research, he says that Napolitano brings with her an imposing list of achievements, including high-level political and administrative experience that will serve the 10-campus UC system well.

cover1 JanetNapolitanoNapolitano, a New York native, became Homeland Security Secretary under President Barack Obama’s Administration beginning in 2009.  She also served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona from 1993 to 1997, and then as the Attorney General of Arizona from 1998 to 2003. Before earning her law degree at the University of Virginia, she was Santa Clara University’s first female valedictorian.

“She’s had 20 years in public service,” Montiel says. “That was an important factor for the search committee.”

The presidential search committee, chaired by UC Regent Sherry Lansing, researched more than 300 prospective candidates, but quickly zeroed in on Napolitano, Montiel says.

“She emerged as someone who is a hardworking and very effective leader—someone who’s built a record of taking on tough challenges, and she’s led large, complicated organizations, and certainly, at the federal level, worked with problematic political environments,” Montiel notes.

As of press time, the Department of Homeland Security had not granted GT’s many requests for an interview with Napolitano.

As the UC President, Napolitano will work closely with legislators on higher education matters, serve as an ex-officio member on the Board of Regents, and essentially represent the UC, which has 191,000 faculty and staff, and 230,000 students. She will oversee the 10 campuses and five medical centers, a statewide agriculture and natural resources program, as well as three affiliated national laboratories, all of which entail an operational budget of approximately $24 billion.

“[The UC] has become a very complex institution,” Montiel says.

Napolitano’s appointment is, in many ways, an indication of a shift that has taken place in appointing UC presidents—a move from individuals with strong academic backgrounds toward appointing leaders who are capable fundraisers, lobbyists, and political operatives.

Napolitano seems to fit that bill.

However, some people, most notably certain academics who actually do what universities are chartered to do—teaching and research—view her lack of background in academic research as reason enough to disqualify her from the position.

Social Sciences and Economics Professor David Kaun has taught at UCSC since 1966, the year after it was established and when Clark Kerr was serving as UC President. Last year Kaun retired and began teaching part-time. He sees the appointment of Napolitano as a horrible decision.

“What,” Kaun asks calmly, “on God’s fucking earth does it mean to have a person who has no academic credentials whatsoever as president of the University? Whatever the motivations were, [for the Regents to choose Napolitano], they were so far from appropriate for what a world-class university claims to be that it’s disgusting.”

Kaun says that previous UC presidents have had significantly more, and at the very least some, academic research or higher education administrative experience.

For example, he notes that Yudof, whom Kaun believes also was lacking as an academic, at least had prior experience as chancellor of the University of Texas System prior to taking on the role at UC, and as president of the University of Minnesota before that.

Napolitano is a woman, Kaun goes on, which is a positive development in the UC presidential tradition. But he adds that her primary credential, in his opinion, is her oversight of illegal immigration deportations.

“I believe she’s a decent and competent person, but in an area that strikes me as having no relationship whatsoever with what a decent university system should be all about,” Kaun says. “She seems to have interests that are far removed from the ethics of our UC.”

In a popular, often-referenced statement by Napolitano, she comments on the structure of public higher education and its need for development to keep up with a technical world.

“Today in America,” she said, “we are trying to prepare students for a high-tech world of constant change, but we are doing so by putting them through a school system designed in the early 20th century that has not seen substantial change in 30 years.”


Napolitano—a Democrat—has taken a lot of heat from both progressives and conservatives for her politics on and enforcement of U.S. immigration laws, Montiel says.

Under Napolitano’s watch, the Obama Administration has deported undocumented individuals at a higher rate than any prior one—just under 410,000 in the 2012 fiscal year. That’s up from 396,000 in 2011. However, she has also been an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform going back 20 years, including her support for the federal DREAM Act that would grant citizenship to many undocumented students.

Her work in Arizona allocating new money to rebuild dilapidated buildings on state university campuses and preventing cuts to education budgets helped her earn the title of “the Education Governor,” Montiel adds.

Napolitano has also stated that, as UC president, she would be an advocate for the undocumented.

cover2“In terms of anxieties and criticisms, they’re always going to be there in the university system,” Montiel says. “Protests are routine, but the regents chose someone to lead the University of California. They didn’t choose her to be a chief immigration enforcement officer. This is an entirely different job.”

In a July 12 press statement from the UC, Napolitano says that she intends to reach out to  chancellors, faculty, regents, and students so she can learn about the UC and its needs from the ground up.

“I recognize that I am a nontraditional candidate,” she says. “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.”

Robert Powell is the chairman of the system’s academic senate and the man who reviewed the applications for UC president. He was instrumental in helping narrow down the list of candidates. He says that, given Napolitano’s background, she will be able to intuitively appreciate the many complex missions and operational partnerships that have long characterized the relationships between the UC system, the government, and corporations.   

UC officials stated in the Los Angeles Times on July 12 that they believe Napolitano’s Cabinet experience—which has included disaster response to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf Stream and anti-terrorism—will help the UC administer its federal energy and nuclear weapons labs, as well as its federally funded medical research.

No doubt this was a contributing factor in Napolitano’s appointment.  Since the dawn of the nuclear age, circa 1943, the UC system has been the main nuclear weapons development contractor in the country. It manages the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where it researches nuclear energy and its weaponization, and recently formed limited-liability corporations with Bechtel and other corporations to manage each facility.

Before World War II, the UC did not receive significant funding for research, Kaun explains.

“With the development of the military and the need for technology and so forth, research funds became, and continue to be, an extremely important part of the UC’s growth,” he says.

The trend of increased funding for sciences and engineering, especially of that related to national defense, has correlated with a decline in resources for the humanities everywhere, Kaun, an avid supporter of the arts, points out. He adds that “poets don’t need a lot of research funding; scientists do.”

The UC’s involvement with nuclear development laboratories has been a source of controversy for some time. On May 17, 2007, at UCSF, more than 100 people, including UCSC students, participated in a nine-day hunger strike and demanded that the Regents terminate UC partnerships with the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. 

Dr. David Krieger, founder and president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in Santa Barbara and the chairperson for Executive Committee of the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility, has advocated for the same severance for many years. He says that a university helping to create weapons of mass destruction as a part-time job is detrimental to the principle educational mission of institutions of higher learning.

“It reflects a kind of moral malaise in our society,” he says. “When a significant university, like ours, can take on the assignment of providing management and oversight for nuclear weapons laboratories, it shows to a great extent how national security and so-called defense have permeated even our institutions of higher education.”

In Krieger’s opinion, the job of a university is to understand and process the knowledge and greatness of civilizations, and convey it to future generations. Nuclear weapons, on the other hand, are the destroyers of civilizations. He points to the UC motto,

“Fiat Lux.”

“The UC has a motto of ‘Let there be light,’ but I don’t think they had in mind the light that’s brighter than a thousand suns,” he says of the explosive destruction a nuclear weapon could inflict.

With Napolitano’s background in Homeland Security, Krieger suspects she will likely do even more to foster the UC’s relationship with nuclear development labs.

cover3Krieger has also appealed directly to the regents at their meetings in the past, once even bringing in two Japanese women who survived the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II to testify, but says the Regents have always been unresponsive in regard to the moral issues involved in the mash-up between the mission of higher education and nuclear development.

From the perspective of science and engineering departments, however, those contracts with nuclear development labs mean much more than just money. They also provide students with the opportunity to work with extremely advanced, high-end equipment at the labs, Krieger admits.

Historically, state funding has been the largest single source of support for the UC, however over the past two decades that source has been cut repeatedly. Tuition and fees have been raised to make up for those losses.  According to the UC’s budget for 2013-14, state funding makes up 10 percent of the budget, totaling $2.38 billion, while tuition and fees make up 13 percent—just shy of $3 billion. Government contracts provide a total of around $4 billion, or 16 percent of the UC’s funding.

The net income to UC from the Los Alamos National Security and Lawrence Livermore National Security—private limited liability companies formed by the UC, which took over direct management of the two laboratories for the university—is estimated to be $26.9 million for 2012.

Powell, the UC’s academic senate chair, says that no matter who the president is, there would be the tendency to seek out more private contracts and grants from foundations and corporations. He also notes that with less and less funding coming from the state and federal government due to sequestration, those contracts will help to fund further research.

“If we’re going to keep doing research, we will need to find funding from [more] private sources,” Powell says, though he believes Napolitano’s role will have more to do with securing money for student scholarships.

Another plus may be that Napolitano’s political background will help prevent further sequestration cuts to research funding at the UC, which would force the laying off of more staff from labs and universities.

“Managing those [nuclear] labs is seen, by and large, as a public service to the country and to the world,” Powell says.


Robert Meister, a professor of Social Sciences and Political Thought at UCSC, and President of The Council of UC Faculty Associations, fears that Napolitano could take the university system in the direction of closer associations with the government information security industry, which he says could compromise academic privacy within the institution.

“We now know, though we always suspected it, that the federal government has access to every single key stroke, every single phone call, and every single email that we make in the university, and that all past data is being stored. ” Meister says. “This is a major issue for a university that depends upon freedom of association, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression.”

When Edward Snowden, an employee of the firm Booz Allen Hamilton, broke the news that the government can intercept all domestic and international communications, it also became increasingly clear how much the federal government has been outsourcing its intelligence gathering activities since 2001.

Montiel points out that Napolitano heads the Department of Homeland Security, not the National Security Agency (NSA), which oversees the data collection.

Meister, however, explains that the various defense departments all have access to the same information and that the Department of Homeland Security was created following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, in association with the Patriot Act, as a means of sharing and cross examining intercepted data.

“The whole point of creating the department that Napolitano heads was to bridge the divide between defense intelligence and domestic surveillance,” Meister says. “It was a loop hole. And Napolitano is at the center of those connections.”

“The NSA is capturing all emails that include certain words and names,” he adds. “So, for example, if in the course of my writing, I discuss the Snowden disclosures with my students, who are interested in the question of how these things affect the Arab Spring, I will have used the words ‘Snowden,’ ‘disclosure,’ ‘NSA,’ ‘Arab Spring,’ and all of a sudden, I can be concerned that everything I’ve written will be automatically captured by government systems.”

Meister has concerns about Napolitano’s current position as Secretary of Homeland Security and how it will affect her role as UC president, pointing out that, because the details of her present position are subjects of national security, she is unable to discuss them openly, and it is likely that she will remain silent on those details as president. He believes that Napolitano’s inability to discuss the government’s collection of communication data, and being the person who most likely knows the most about it, cripples her ability to be an effective lobbyist in protecting the future privacy and integrity of the UC’s academic enterprise.

Powell points out that Napolitano’s current position is one that requires secrecy.

“She can’t just go about shooting from the hip answering sensitive questions,” he says. “We have no idea how she’s going to address [these confidential privacy concerns].”

Powell says that many of Meister’s concerns were addressed at a recent Regents meeting in a document entitled “The Privacy and Information Security Initiative Steering Committee Report to the President.” He says the document is designed to protect the information that UC researchers generate, the communication between students and faculty, and protect individual privacy rights.

It states, “Academic and intellectual freedoms are values of the academy that help further the mission of the University. These freedoms are most vibrant where individuals have autonomy: where their inquiry is free because it is given adequate space for experimentation and their ability to speak and participate in discourse within the academy is possible without intimidation. Privacy is a condition that makes living out these values possible.”

“It’s inconceivable to me,” Powell says, “that Napolitano would walk in here and throw out this report because she feels like it protects people too much.”


According to Meister, the Cold War is part of the UC’s DNA. Involvement with government defense contracting and research helped the University System to expand significantly during those years. He believes that the U.S.’s War on Terror, now in its 12th year, has replaced the Cold War as a source of defense partnerships, but now, instead of munitions, UC partnerships will revolve more closely around big data management and high-tech analytics.

But will Napolitano’s background in homeland security increase the University’s involvement with the national security and big data industry? It’s certainly something Meister is concerned about, and it could make the University increasingly subject to government security, rather than especially immune to it for academic purposes.

“I believe it’s a serious question for Napolitano: to what extent does the University of California want to get in on the data and analytics defense industry and to replicate, in this new age, the kind of federal support that it got from the munitions and weapons industry during the Cold War?” he says.

It appears that that interest from the UC is very much a reality.

Brent Haddad is the associate dean of engineering and chair for UCSC’s new Department of Technology Management, which focuses on complex technical systems and big data management—what he calls a new direction for the campus.

Haddad says that in the future, the Department of Technology Management could very well partner with federal defense departments, and that those partnerships could, in turn, involve partnerships with other private contractors.

“Some of the largest companies in the world do work for the defense department,” he says. “Our researchers might have some shared interests with them, so I would say there is a possibility.”

Haddad says these research relationships create revenue for the UC in the forms of grants, contracts and awards.

“There’s all kinds of research happening at the University, and if the federal government is interested in it, and if a contractor is interested in it, or any company, they would want to know what these outstanding [UC] scientists are doing,” he adds. In his opinion,

it behooves the University to move ideas and innovations out into public use through any available avenues, including directly contracting with the private sector.

“Tax payers are paying for these discoveries, and if they go out through government contracts, that’s fine,” he says. “If they go out through private intellectual property and get integrated into new products and devices, that’s fine, too. And if they contribute to national security, that’s fine as well.”

Meister worries that if the UC was to partner more directly with national security-based data operations, those ties would increase the need for security level clearances, heighten government scrutiny into faculty and students’ backgrounds and opinions, and the overall pressure for the UC to further compromise its privacy.

“We have been promising students in every University document that all of the information they generate as a result of participation with the University is protected by FERPA,” or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, which protects the privacy of student education records, he says. “Further involvement with government security could make it impossible for us to actually comply with all of the federally mandated privacy protections that we promise our students and our research subjects.”

Moving forward, Meister says

that the university must carve out a sphere of the private that protects it from both government and corporate security oversight.

But Montiel does not believe Napolitano represents a threat to the UC’s academic privacy.

“She’s going to be the president of the University of California,” he says. “It’s about academic freedom. It’s a place where ideas from all sides are exchanged, and that’s going to continue to be the case.”


Powell says that he thinks Napolitano might have been drawn to the position of UC president because of the unique circumstances of the institution.

“The value of public higher education has never been more in question, and Gov. Jerry Brown taking the bull by the horns and passing Prop. 30 was a significant thing,” he says, referencing the 2012 initiative that increased taxes on California’s highest earners to boost the state’s education budget by $6 billion over the next several years.  “I would imagine that [Napolitano] saw that, and thought, ‘Hey, California is a place where something special is happening with higher education. Maybe I can be a part of that.’”

Meanwhile, UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal says Napolitano has much to offer the UC as its next leader.

cover4“I am confident that, under Napolitano’s leadership, UC will remain the preeminent public research university in the world,” he said in a July 12 UCSC press statement. “Additionally, I look forward to Napolitano’s emergence nationally as an advocate both for students and for the research conducted at public universities in general, and at the University of California, in particular. I have invited her to visit our campus as soon as her schedule allows, as I am eager to share our story of excellence and innovation with her. I feel confident our campus will thrive under her leadership.”

As is represented by the appointment of Napolitano, the University’s expectations of its president are changing. It seems the demands of a president are becoming more rooted in practical administration tactics and politics than in academic expertise and wisdom.

But in that evolution of institutional academia, Krieger believes something is lost.

“There was a time when University presidents were looked to for intellectual leadership,” he says. “That seems like a long time ago. It seems almost quaint now to think of a University president as more than an administrator and fundraiser.”

Krieger says he believes the purpose of the UC is to acquaint students with the best of what humanity has accomplished. It is a duty to “civilize and humanize” students to participate as citizens of a great democracy; “to create a culture that’s significant.”

Instead, he says, the trend seems to show that universities are allowing themselves to sell out to the highest bidders, becoming part of a corporate America that reinforces itself in the role of acting as scientific and technical training institutions.

There has been a massive shift over to the sciences and engineering, and there are many issues in the world that demand that kind of expertise—global warming and clean energy sources are examples, Krieger says, but without a strong traditional education in the humanities, context is lost. He points to the expression, “When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Krieger is confident in Napolitano’s ability to lead the UC in the fulfillment of its technical and political missions, but believes the greater, more traditional responsibilities in academic morality remain contentious.

“As long as you don’t effectively mix the humanities with the sciences, you have technicians who are not necessarily guided by an educated vision of what’s best for humanity,” he says. “I think education should be driven by a vision and by values. It’s important to ask ourselves, are we driven by values of compassion, empathy, and perseverance, or are we just trying to make a better hammer?” 


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