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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday, July 28, 2013
By Anonymous

The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Janet Napolitano has been confirmed as the new President of the University of California on 18 July 2013. This position comes with an annual salary of approximately $570,000, an increase of $370,000 over her salary at DHS.  More importantly, her selection as the new UC President reflects not only a lack of experience with educational institutions, and a lack of transparency by the Regents, but a failure of the Regents to recognize the harm and terror inflicted on millions of families who continue to suffer the impact of a deportation and detention regime that increased during her tenure. 

President Obama praised Napolitano for “taking steps to make our immigration system fairer and more consistent with our values.”  But one wonders what these values are:  Napolitano, after all, proposed the draconian “Secure Communities” program (popularly known as S-Comm). Originally  S-Comm permitted communities to “opt-out” from collaboration between local state police agencies and federal immigration agents, but Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents reveal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deliberately misled state and local officials about the programs ostensibly non-compulsory nature, apparently to stem opposition. DHS insisted on mandatory collaboration, and the policy “churns roughly 400,000 detainees through 32,000 beds each year.”  These detainees are routinely denied legal counsel and moved from state to state without notice. “While DHS has published a manual that sets forth standards for immigration detainees’ access to counsel, the manual is not binding.”  

The concerns of local law enforcement appear to have been well founded: experts on the topic of immigration have identified an increase in insecurity in those communities that fear calling the police due to the S-Comm program. A lawsuit filed against the DHS during Napolitano’s tenure, identified the incarceration of lawful permanent residents, inconsistent conditions of confinement, substandard and abusive detention conditions, widespread detainee mistreatment, lack of training of ICE employees, and inadequate medical care that has led to numerous deaths, 33 of which occurred since the start of Napolitano's tenure at DHS.  It is worrisome that these actions be celebrated as examples of “our values” by President Obama. It is even more alarming that this history would be welcomed by the Regents of the University of California, the leading public university system in the nation.

Moreover, Napolitano has overseen the privatization of detention centers and use of subcontracted guards. The privatization of detention centers has invited a rise in the number of detentions and increased periods of incarceration that include indefinite detention. Despite a decline in unauthorized border migration to a 40-year low, in 2011 ICE detained a record number of 429,000 immigrants. In 2012, investors in these prisons accrued $2 billion dollars of tax-payer money. Furthermore, Napolitano supports the security measures that will ensure  the ongoing privatization of detention centers and direct profits to a burgeoning biometric industry.  These measures, costing $46 billion dollars, are part of the current immigration bill under discussion in the House of Representatives.  

Napolitano’s recent statements of support of the DREAM Act are contradicted by administrative actions she has taken as the head of the Department of Homeland Security: the broad scope of prosecutorial discretion regarding deferred action, an ongoing culture that maximizes arrest rates, and limitations on the right to legal counsel. The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild argues that limits on prosecutorial discretion for deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) (which may include rejecting applications for infractions such as possession of one marijuana cigarette) remain weak. Additionally, ICE requires DACA applications by individuals in immigration detention to contact adeportation officer or the ICE Office of the Public Advocate, but ignores that this office was defunded in March 2013. Revelations of bonus programs that award thousands of dollars to border agents (incentives that invite harassment and intimidation) for increased arrests irrespective of legal status and ongoing limitations on access to counsel throughout DHS raise questions on ICE’s ability to fairly process DACA applications. This concern is compounded following a federal district court ruling this month involving a FOIA suit regarding noncitizens’ access to counsel in interactions with ICE that resulted in hundreds of redacted pages by the agency, which reveals a lack of transparency in the DHS. Napolitano’s systematic denial of the legal right to counsel, abuses by ICE personnel, and an “ongoing culture of secrecy” may very well impede information regarding DACA applications and thereby dilute the DREAM Act.

Immigrant youth, or “DREAMers,” who have participated in mobilizations for equitable access to education and immigration reform have pressured President Obama into instituting Deferred Action; a new Executive Order that allows students, youth and ex-military who meet certain eligibility requirements for a two year amnesty from deportations. Thanks to their efforts, approximately two million undocumented youth who attended school in the U.S. may be eligible for naturalization upon passage of the immigration reform bill. These “DREAMers” members of immigrant communities that have sacrificed to improve the lives of their children, who have also sacrificed in meeting and exceeding their obligations as students, have pressured Obama into supporting an amnesty as part of the new immigration reform bill, but now will have to confront someone who has created a noxious environment for their families and communities in the pursuit of their academic dreams.

At a time when the Latino/a population will comprise a plurality of California in 2014 and the rate of Latino/a high school graduates pursuing higher education (69%) that surpasses whites (67%) nationally, the confirmation of Napolitano as the next UC President risks Latino/a gains, especially among first generation college students with significant proportions of the undocumented. The appointment of Janet Napolitano sends at best a mixed message to “DREAMers” about the commitments of the next UC president, who spent the last five years focused on hard-line implementation of security laws rather than on educational advancement, and threatens the mandate to public education across the nation.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday, July 21, 2013
Despite calls from students, faculty, the LAT and the Sacramento Bee to allow greater public discussion and debate over the appointment of Janet Napolitano as President of UC, the Regents moved ahead and quickly named her to the position.  In so doing, they have forfeited what little moral and ethical authority they retained as leaders of the University of California.  They retain, of course, the legal power to act as they please and as they have done.  But we should be clear that they have rejected the idea of a University and have declared that they see UC as simply another bureaucracy to be managed from the top.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

I should make clear that I, like basically everyone else, have no idea what sort of President Janet Napolitano will make in the end.  But that is precisely the problem.  President-elect Napolitano has no experience within higher education, has demonstrated no deep engagement with questions of education or scholarship, was shielded--with the apparent consent of the Academic Senate Leadership--from widespread contact with, or questioning by, the wider university community, and the public debate over her appointment was ignored or dismissed with boilerplate pablum from the Regents and their allies.  It is possible that she will prove a better advocate for the University than her two immediate predecessors but that is a pretty low bar; as is the fact that as Governor she supported higher education more than did Arnold Schwarzenegger. I do hope she proves an effective President;  it is in all our interests.

But the more fundamental problem is the Regents.  That only Student Regent Cynthia Flores thought that Secretary Napolitano's record at Homeland Security needed to be addressed is a clear sign of the indifference of the Regents to the nature of a University.  That the Regents seem to think of the President as largely a political post demonstrates they don't even understand the nature of the institution they presumably direct (a point reinforced by the Regents confusion over the nature of Shared Governance).  If the rumors are true that Napolitano's two strongest competitors were not distinguished academics but rather scions of the military-industrial complex (Colin Powell and Leon Panetta) then the failure of the Regents to care that they direct an educational institutions becomes even clearer. 

Let's look at some of the symptoms of the Regents' incapacity:

1) As numerous people have pointed out, the Regents' intensely secretive appointment process ran against the very nature of a public university.  To be sure, this secrecy was in keeping with their long-standing resistance to providing full public access to their discussions and proceedings (if you need proof of this just follow Dan Mitchell's heroic efforts to make Regents' public sessions available on audio for listeners who can't stay glued to their computers during the live proceedings.)

But even for the Regents, this process was incredibly secretive.  No possibility was allowed for public discussion or questioning during the search process, the nomination was made in the middle of July one week before the full Board voted on it, at the point of nomination perhaps half of the Board even knew the result, or had ever met the candidate.

Regent Lansing sought to defend the secrecy by claiming that a more open process would have scared off qualified candidates.  But this claim is fatuous.  The University of Texas has an open process as do other universities; every other academic appointment (whether to faculty or administration) that I know of has open campus visits without losing qualified candidates (and most people I know tell their home institutions when they have on-campus interviews even though this is not required); and Lansing doesn't seem to consider whether career aims of the candidate should trump the interests of the institution.  Or for that matter, what it means that someone aiming to lead the leading public university system in the country would only apply if the process was conducted in secret.

2)  Many people have also pointed out that the secrecy of the appointment process mirrors the secrecy of Secretary Napolitano's job as Secretary of Homeland Security.  I won't belabor that point here.

But it is striking that the Regents would consider her background--as an attorney general, governor, and Secretary of Homeland Security--appropriate for directing a University.   The Regents and their defenders all deploy the rhetoric of unconventional choices or thinking "outside of the box." But the idea that because a person has managed one bureaucracy focused on one task s/he can lead a different bureaucracy with a different task is entirely conventional from the perspective of contemporary managerial ideology.

From this perspective it matters not what the purpose of an institution is--since all you need is to replace one manager with another.  But this ignores two points:

First, as Chris already pointed out any notion of "meritocracy" depends on demonstrating your skill and success in a chosen field--otherwise it is simply who you know.

But just as importantly, managerial ideology ignores the reality that different institutions serve different purposes and have different functions. 

In truth things are quite different.  Educational institutions may adopt certain techniques from business but they should not be modeled on businesses: the purpose of a business is to make profit, the purpose of a University is scholarship, that is to say to teach and to do research.  Universities depend on values of openness and debate, and flourish when the community as a whole searches for answers; state bureaucracies are top down and, in the case of Homeland Security or Attorney General Offices, deeply concerned with controlling information.  The Regents simply do not understand the nature of the institution they rule.

3).  If the Regents seem not to understand the nature of Universities in general, they also do not seem to understand the structure of the University of California in particular.  It is only by ignoring their own Standing Orders that they could conceive of the Presidency as primarily a political position whose fundamental role is in Sacramento.  In reality President Napoitano will have tremendous power over the internal life of the University.  Perhaps the Regents  have not read their own description of her power as laid out in Standing Order 100.4.

Here is Standing Order 100.4 (a)

The President shall be the executive head of the University and shall have full authority and responsibility over the administration of all affairs and operations of the University, excluding only those activities which are the responsibility of the Secretary and Chief of Staff, Chief Investment Officer, General Counsel of The Regents, and Senior Vice President - Chief Compliance and Audit Officer. The President may delegate any of the duties of the office except service as an ex officio Regent.  

100.4 (a) is the heart of Presidential power and it grants to the President authority "over the administration of all affairs and operations of the University."  As we have seen under President Yudof, this power extends deeply into the educational life of the University:  from online education, through the privatization of Anderson, onto tuition, the creation of new schools and unfunded mandates on campus and the explosion in the numbers of non-resident students.  The President is also (100.4.(i)) "authorized to make awards of fellowships, scholarships, and prizes" and we are told (100.4(j)) that she "shall present recommendations to the Board concerning the academic plans of the University and of the several campuses."

It is true that the President is charged with negotiating with Sacramento.  It is the 12th section of Presidential powers.  For the Regents, though, it appears that section (a) is an afterthought and section (l) the crucial issue.

Now no one would deny that making the case for the University to the Legislature and the Governor is a crucial task of the President.  The weak cases that have been made under the last two Presidential administrations are proof of that.  But the question is whether or not that case is made most effectively by someone who can represent and explain the fundamental activities of the University or by someone whose expertise lies elsewhere.  The Regents, themselves without effective knowledge of the University community think the latter.  And with that approach they turn their backs on the University itself.

This criticism is not, I think, academic snobbery.  It is instead a recognition that the rule of the professional managers has brought us to the pass we are at: with the value of higher education and of scholarship under attack, with tuition rising, with pressures on students, staff, and faculty increasing, and with bloated administrations.  The truly unconventional choice, one that thought outside of the box, would be a person deeply engaged with the life of scholarship (both teaching and research) and able to make the case to the public and the legislature of the value of a public research university that was more than a patent producer.   It is no surprise that the Regents cannot see this point: they are themselves representatives of the professional managers.  But it is a sign of their lack of competency in leading the University.

It has been just over a year since the University Board of Visitors under the leadership of Rector Dragas tried to purge Teresa Sullivan for over-valuing the importance of undergraduate education and undervaluing the wisdom of Thomas Friedman.   The Virginia Visitors were seeking to remove a President and the UC Regents are putting one into office.  But the similarities are more striking than the differences.  In each case, a Board moved on the conventional wisdom of the chattering classes to trod over the deepest traditions of the Universities they were supposed to protect and in so doing revealed their disregard for the traditions of scholarship and academic life.   In each they proceeded in secret to prevent any successful opposition.  The Virginia Board of Visitors failed in their efforts to remove President Sullivan.  It looks as if the Board of Regents have succeeded in installing President Napolitano.

But like the Virginia Board of Visitors, the UC Board of Regents have failed as stewards of the traditions and values of the Institution they have been appointed to shepherd.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday, July 19, 2013
The spirit of the University of California is the closed, top-down process through which the Regents divulged the nomination of Janet Napolitano only six days before the final vote, and then approved her while, in the words of one old Oakland hand, appearing “completely unaffected by the testimony that they heard.” 

The spirit of the University of California is the outpouring of critique, questioning, and protest at the appointment discussion itself, captured by this photo of Alex Aldana being led out of the meeting by police, which the LA Times used as its image of the meeting.  If nothing else, the Regents’ meetings are now producing the UC system’s best protests.  As as result, we were able to offer Ms. Napolitano a full UC welcome. 

Now that the decision is over and done, we need to get real answers to the major questions that were completely absent from the official proceedings. 

Many of the strongest objections addressed Ms. Napolitano's status as a top player in the national security establishment.  I too had a hard time fathoming that our next president was coming directly from running the Department of Homeland Security. But I won't discuss these questions here: I did one post partially on this, and there are more thorough treatments of the issue by Professors Joe Kiskis (UC Davis) and Mark LeVine (UC Irvine), among others.

The other major problem is her lack of expertise in university affairs. Public universities are still up the creek, and UC, with its very high standards, its full-spectrum research, and its bipartisan austerity politicians, is up it farther than most. What is this A-list Democrat politician going to do that the also-politically oriented Mark Yudof couldn't do before her?  What is she going to do given that the core threats come from corporate reformers in her own party? What is she going to do when the threats come from inside the house? When they come from people with whom we have to assume she bascially agrees?

The problem with politicians like Ms. Napolitano is not just the medium but the message. UC's current president, Mark Yudof, was hired with exactly the same theory--we need someone who can work with legislatures.   He had a good track record dealing with statehouses in Minnesota and Texas, not to mention with the wrestler-governor Jesse Ventura.  But in spite of his experience with the political medium he didn't have the right academic message.  

Can Ms. Napolitano do better with major questions that the public and politicians are asking, day in day out? Just having more clout and connections than Mr. Yudof isn't going to do the trick.

  1. Why should public universities have public funding restored? Why can't they just do more with less--perhaps by using more technology like everybody else? 
  2. Why should public universities and not just wealthy privates like Stanford and Harvard conduct expensive scientific research? What are the public purposes, or huge scale, or something, that requires lots of public support in the public sector? 
  3. What specific types of undergraduate educational improvements would result from restored funding?  How would students benefit, exactly, from public reinvestment?
  4. What are the limits of online education for public university students? Why shouldn't UC students spend, say, two of twelve quarters studying off site and online to make better use of resources? What exactly is the harm in that?  
  5. What are the limits of competency-based education?  Why shouldn't we disaggregate our public colleges into skill-oriented units with semi-routinized instructors and an emphasis on peer-to-peer instruction? Why isn't a collection of "badges" as good as a college degree?
  6. Do we really need as many PhD trained faculty teaching 20 year olds as we have? What do they do that technicians running MOOCs can't do?  
  7. Do we really need so much academic research? What are we really learning from political science? Or art history? Or environmental biology?
  8. What is wrong with using post-graduate salary data to grow and shrink majors by statistical evaluation and administrative decree? 
  9. Why should the state pay more money when so much is just going into employee pensions, which most Americans no longer have? 
  10. What are the educational, intellectual, or social benefits of allowing students to protest?   Why should taxpayers support institutions that disgruntled young people use to launch attacks on society? On the other hand, why can't UC keep non-UC police off campus and create a safe space for political speech? 
  11. What is the payoff of academic freedom, beyond giving professors protection that few Americans have in their own workplaces? 
This is a start on the core questions about the nature, mission, promise, and vision of public universities.  The past twenty years of semi-privatization has confused everyone and made them much tougher to answer.  Privatization, continuous financial anxiety, and the solicitation of an unending series of sponsors who now call the tune have obscured what the unique public missions actually are.   Universities used to be bastions against political influence, and now they aren't, and seem to most of the public to be as political as any other governmental entity or corporation.  Universities, thanks to all of their compromises, have not sustained the arguments for public support.  This is the world that Ms. Napolitano has inherited, and inherited it without knowledge of its inner workings.

We already know the likely path if she and we can't answer these questions correctly. It's mediocrity--Mark Yudof was right to worry about this--in the institutions being offered to a great generation of students, often first generation, working-class, of color, undocumented, who need more, higher, education from us rather than lesser and lower.   

This downgrade is completely unnecessary, and it is something we can stop. I hope that the shame of it--the shame of ripping off this new generation of students--will galvanize Ms. Napolitano and the rest of us into laying the intellectual groundwork for a policy about-face. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013
By Joe Kiskis, (Professor of Physics, UC Davis)

Less than one week before the Regents confirmation vote scheduled for Thursday, we were presented with a surprise nomination for the next President of the University of California. Regent Lansing, chair of the search committee and with a background in the movie industry, has characterized the choice as "unconventional," indeed. For the first time since 1888, the nominee is a person who has neither experience as an academic nor experience in the University. What Ms Napolitano does have is name recognition at a national level and a record as a successful politician and competent Secretary of Homeland Security.

As an introduction to this nomination, we have been presented with an uncharacteristically well orchestrated PR campaign of short blurbs from prominent individuals and a summary of her experience as a politician and government administrator. It is disappointing that neither the Regents search committee nor our academic leaders who were advisory to the search have presented a cogent, substantive explanation of their rationale for this selection. So what can we make of this on our own and what questions should be addressed before the Regent vote?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) includes includes customs and border patrol, immigration, coast guard, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Secret Service, and has responsibility for cybersecurity. Its record on civil liberties and civil rights is controversial. For example, DHS continues to assert and exercise power to confiscate the computers and phones of US citizens at the border without a warrant, probable cause, or suspicion of a crime. They claim and exercise power to search the information content of these devices. They can exercise these extra-constitutional powers within 100 miles of an actual border. When asked to do a Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Impact Assessment, they produced a report that is well summarized by this quote from the executive summary:

"We conclude that CBP’s and ICE’s current border search policies comply with the Fourth Amendment. We also conclude that imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits."

The Obama administration in which the nominee has served since its beginning has an extremely controversial record on surveillance, drone strikes on US citizens, civil liberties, and privacy.

We must ask how a record of deep connections to federal law enforcement and national security and a questionable commitment to civil liberties matches the values of the university, which privilege the free exchange of ideas, open and public expressions of dissent, the first amendment, the fourth amendment, and the privacy rights of faculty, students, and staff.

Since we have not been provided with the thinking behind this nomination and the strategic shift that it represents, we are left to speculations based on the record of the nominee.

Does this represent a new strategy to justify support for the University by the prioritization of political connections rather than the academic mission?

Does it represent a shift in emphasis from serving the people of California through the Master Plan to serving the needs of the federal government including especially its national security sector with its vast array of industry partners?

What does it say about future tolerance for dissent on campus and about the law enforcement responses to campus protest?

The University community and the people of California deserve a substantive justification for this nomination and an opportunity for dialog before a Regental vote.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tuesday, July 16, 2013
The UC Regents' busy week includes hiring a new president and also voting on more routine matters, including one that has become routine fairly recently.  That is a proposal to increase employer and employee contributions to the pension again next year.    Each of these increases helps make the pension fund (UCRP) more solvent. Each also amounts to annual cuts to staff and faculty take-home pay.

In 1990, the Regents stopped pension contributions from both the University and from its faculty and staff, when the pension was overfunded, and did not restart them until April 2010, at least ten years after the pension began its decline towards the underfunded state it's in today.  The outcome for staff and faculty was summarized in an April 2013 letter from the University Committee on Faculty Welfare (UCFW) to Senate Chair Bob Powell (scroll down past the cover letter):
Between April 2010, the time that employee contributions were restarted, and July 2013, the value of take-home pay will have declined by a total of 10% due to inflation (6.5%) plus the restart of employee contributions (an additional 6.5%), off-set by only one 3% salary increase, in October 2011.
The employee contribution increased 1.5% in the year just started (bringing it to 6.5% of gross pay.  The proposal this Wednesday is to increase the employee contribution another 1.5% in 2014-15. In that year, each employee will send a total of 8% of their gross pay to the pension fund.

The Senate has had three general positions on this. The first is that contributions need to be ramped up quickly to fix UCRP's underfunding. To that end, Academic Council voted unanimously to support the proposed 2014-15 rates of 14% from the University and 8% from the employees (cover letter). 

The second position has been that the ratio of employee:employer contributions should never be more than 1:2.  That principle has now been temporarily set aside by the endorsement of the ratio of 8:14.

Finally, by a vote of 14-3-1, Council ratified UCFW's proposal that Senate approval be contingent on

the increase in employee contributions to 8% [being] accompanied by an across the board pay raise for faculty (and non represented staff) of at least 3%. A 3% increase would merely compensate for the two most recent 1.5% increases in employee contribution rates effective on July 1, 2013 and July 1, 2014; any increase greater than 3% would constitute a small step toward restoring competitive salaries
Unfortunately, such a pay increase has not been budgeted by the state, which foresees a 5% general fund increase (still well below 2007-08 levels) and no tuition increase (page 4).

I hate to depress my colleagues, but we may well be looking at another 1.5% cut in take-home pay next year, bringing the UC cuts to 8% since 2010, or say 12% when we count inflation and subtract the one-time 3% salary increase .

UC's 2013 Accountability report claims that faculty salaries are 85-89% of their comparators (page 70). The net pay gap  may be closer to negative 25%. 

UC commissions compensation studies, and in the 2000s they generally concluded that while UC faculty and staff salaries lagged, total compensation was as good or better, because pension and health benefits were so good. That was then. As employees pay more to support the pension, the pension becomes a smaller benefit. 

At a UCLA event last fall, former Senate chair and benefits guru Bob Anderson reported that the pension became "slightly uncompetitive" with comparison universities when employee contributions hit 5%.  At the 2013-14 rate of 6.5%, they are "definitely uncompetitive." So the solution to the uncompetitive salaries--the pension--has now become part of the problem.  (The same thing has happened to retiree health benefits, as UC contribution to current employee health costs was also cut from 89% to 70% of total cost over time.)

The state of UC's salary scales is even worse than that of actual salaries.  The reason is that 2/3rd of general campus faculty are off-scale.  The only way to keep a competitive individual salary is to be off scale, and if you didn't get hired with a large off-scale increment then in general you need to go on the job market, get an offer with a higher salary from a university that is good enough for UC to want to match, and get a salary match in return. 

This situation creates a "loyalty penalty" in which faculty who serve the institution more than they serve their own careers are in effect punished for service with lower salaries.  In addition, when faculty play the market, administrators need a bigger war chest to retain them.  They grow their reserves by keeping allocated lines unfilled and by failing to put any new salary money into fixing the scales.  One of the reasons fixing the scales overall has not been a priority is because many executive vice chancellors have opposed it, on the plausible grounds that the fix would come out of their campus funds and reduce their funds for faculty retention and related needs.

Prof. Anderson pointed out that when the University stopped contributing to the pension, it was engaging in hidden deficit spending. Employees were incurring $1.5 billion in annual service credit, a third of that tied to state funding. So at the 1:2 employee:employer ratio, UC artificially suppressed its state funding need by at least $333 million a year. 

The same can be said about salaries.  The university needs enthusiastically self-overworking loyalists to function at a high level.  The avoidance of a two-speed faculty has over decades increased both equity and efficiency, and in particular helped shrink gender-based pay gaps. The new practice of having negative to zero overall net pay increases establishes a two- or three-class structure within the faculty, with attendant operational and equity problems.  And it perversely allows the University to lowball its real state funding need in a way that insures correct state funding will never be there.

The salary scales need to be fixed, loyalist pay brought back into line with comparison schools, and faculty in this way encouraged to put more rather than less time developing the university overall.  The only way to fix scales (and the pension) is to get state funding back to normal levels.  But no one is making the case clearly enough that UC, without renewed investment, is still on the verge of being permanently downgraded as a university.

Salaries and scales are one of those issues where conventional wisdom is wrong, and where you need deep experience to understand why.  Pay gaps will be along the new president's major challenges, and I hope the issue will be presented correctly to her.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Los Angeles Times reported earlier today that the Regents have picked Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security, as the University of California’s next president. I have been hearing various reactions, including from one UC faculty member who has worked with her that  “this is a major [positive] step for us.”  As Arizona governor, Ms. Napolitano was considered a strong supporter of K-12 and higher education. She has convinced the UC faculty Senate chair that she thinks that faculty members are important to a university. Nevertheless, as we await more information, I want to point out three obvious issues and one less obvious one about this choice.

The first issue is that although Ms. Napolitano appears to be a very senior manager with lots of political experience, she is unqualified to be a university president.  This would be obvious were the direction of appointment reversed: no mayor or city council would appoint a Dean of Engineering as Chief of the LAPD.  None would justify such a choice by explaining, in the words of Regent Selection Chair Sherry Lansing, that the engineering dean will be a great police chief because she “has earned trust at the highest, most critical levels of our country's [engineering profession].”

Meritocracies define “being qualified” for the biggest job in a field as requiring prior experience in other jobs in the field. One is co-pilot before being pilot, a medical intern before being a licensed physician, Provost at Columbia before being Chancellor of UC Berkeley, and so on. The only modern non-academic UC president, the major builder Robert Gordon Sproul (1930-1958), had worked in UC business and finance for 16 years before his appointment.  Mark Yudof, also hired for political savvy, had previously been president of two major public research universities, and had put pen to paper on the sector's future. Ms. Napolitano has no experience with university life or management and no known body of organized thought on the subject.  It is not easy to make up for this. Being a political heavyweight is not a qualification for being a university president. Earning President Obama’s trust is not a qualification.  Being the daughter of an academic manager is not a qualification, although this was invoked by Regent Lansing-- “Her father was dean of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. It is no coincidence that those who know her best say that a passion for education is in her DNA.”  Passion for education is also not a qualification.  That the Regents went forward with this appointment means that they don’t think academic experience is a meaningful qualification for presiding over academics.

The second issue is that Ms. Napolitano has spent nearly all of her career in law enforcement. In the Obama Administration, she moved on to “counterterrorism, border security, immigration enforcement, cybersecurity and disaster preparedness, response and recovery.”   It’s true that UC’s budget is a disaster from which recovery is essential, so her FEMA experience could come in handy. But even ignoring her possibly mixed record as DHS manager, the overall Homeland portfolio is a kind of disqualification. Universities are the opposite of detention centers. The security function is the opposite of teaching and research.  Universities are about discovery, which generally involves ignoring or breaking conceptual rules rather than enforcing them. Universities are about learning, which requires openness, flexibility, freedom and placing fanatical priority on human development, all of which is the opposite of border control, surveillance and deportation (Ms. Napolitano appears to be US history’s champion deporter).  The UCOP press release mentions research at DHS, but this largely involves weaponizing domestic spaces.  One colleague concluded, “They must have wanted a politician who knows surveillance.”

Ms. Napolitano has major political skills that could be of use in Sacramento, which Dan Mitchell suggests was her selection’s dominant goal.  But this brings us to the third issue.  She has no political network in California, no local knowledge of the players, no constituency in the state, no national or state-based academic network, no direct understanding of the state’s history or current society.  She will have at best a mixed record with the state’s Latino community, whose educational advancement is crucial to California’s future. Lacking any real base, how politically tough can she  be? She will be dependent for knowledge and connections on the regents who appointed her, and on the leading figures of the state Democratic Party, Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who also sit on the Board of Regents.  She will need to exert university muscle against the very people who hired her, who are the same people who have cut or squeezed the UC budget.
I truly hope I am wrong, but I see little chance of a new UC direction coming from this combination of no experience with universities, deep experience with law enforcement and security, and no independent knowledge of the state’s politics and politicians.

Finally, there is internal issue of UCOP’s relationship to the university’s actual campuses. I’ve written before about UCOP’s decline from its historic function of curating the UC system as a whole into an office dedicated to finance and publicity, and whose function is now deeply political.  If Ms. Napolitano’s major asset is her status as a political heavyweight, ratified by her national security connections to Sen. Dianne Feinstein and then back to the senator’s husband, Regent Richard Blum (Sen Feinstein’s endorsement is included in the UCOP press release), then the majority plan must be to use Ms. Napolitano’s national stature to shock and awe the pee-wees running the Sacto show, and perhaps to do something similar with our oblivious technology elites.  But this kind of function has nothing to do with campus life--with the faculty, staff and student problems that UCOP has neglected and allowed to fester.  The deep issue has been not too little executive power but too much--too much top-down executive control, at too great a distance.  What are the odds that a former state governor and White House cabinet secretary will stoop to fathom and then facilitate a bottom-up revitalization of the campuses themselves? 

The odds are bad. But if Ms. Napolitano does not understand, empower, and re-fund the campuses, her appointment will mean the further collapse of UCOP-Regents into its self-regarding political simulacra, as the campuses pursue with more devotion their separate fates.