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Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Regents Select America’s Top Cop as UC President: First Thoughts

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.


Anonymous said...

I suspect she is no Sproul... Sproul understood the confounding complexity of California and was, I think, effective at working it.

California is as complex as Washington, DC but unable to settle disagreements with the salubrious effects of deficit spending. On top of that, California is a vault of local snakes who might sting her to death.

But she might be a quick study and her tutors (Feinstein, Brown, in my dreams Willie Brown too) might help a lot

However, I agree with you that there no evidence for a deep love on her part of UC and its mission. Feinstein is a Stanford grad and Brown a product mostly of Jesuit education. And Homeland Security is a different and opposite culture than Universities.

Anonymous said...

A sad day for UC. There was a time when a prerequisite for being the President of a great university was to be an eminent scholar. For some of our Presidents and Chancellors, the "eminent" was perhaps not appropriate, but they were nevertheless at one time a "scholar" who published scholarly work.

We now have even dropped the pretense of having a scholar as the president. Will this trickle down to chancellors, deans, and even chairs? Perhaps the Mayor of San Diego would make a fine Dean of UCSDs Medical School? And the fire chief could be the Chair of the Department of Civil Engineering.

The only possible explanation of how the search committee arrived at the Secretary of Homeland Security is that they had their hopes on getting the Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. When he turned UC down the search committee had convinced themselves that they needed a former cabinet secretary more than they needed a Nobel Prize winning scholar.

Chris Newfield said...

interesting thoughts, and it makes sense that Chu is the missing link. N probably is a very quick study, and the silver lining would be that if she learns some true things about the needs of the campuses etc. she's someone the Regents would actually listen to.

Brian Riley said...

Do you think maybe that this is mostly a personal-strategic move on Richard Blum's part, in order to secure his reappointment to the Board of Regents in February 2014?

If this is true, then maybe the Regents know that the choice of Napolitano is inappropriate, but they expect her to resign in about two or three years if she's appointed to the US Supreme Court.

Chris Newfield said...

Jerry Brown controls appointments to the Board of Regents, and I'm not sure why he would reappoint Blum. I think that would be quite unusual, but I'd have to check. It sounds to me from the press statements that the regents and the faculty advisors to the search committee think Napolitano is as appropriate as it gets . . .

Shane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Riley said...

Dianne Feinstein actually conducted the wedding ceremony for Jerry Brown and Anne Gust in 2005, so Brown might feel a personal allegiance to Richard Blum due to that.

Unknown said...

As well as not a great day for UC, it would be sadder still if this is only a stepping stone to a future appointment--or a non-partisan interlude outside cabinet life--to a position that for which she is more qualified.

Mark Yudof said...

Napolitano was actually the 6th pick for the UC presidency. Here's a run-down of the 5 shortlisted ahead of her:

Anonymous said...

I think the intellectually incurious engagement that characterizes this post can be noted quickly enough by considering the tone. Saying that service as a cabinet secretary and governor would "appear" to be the positions of a "senior manager" is well into the zone of the dismissive and petty (and don't think the anticipatable defense of "sarcasm" will--this is one instance that characterizes the tone throughout). There are real critiques to be made, but I think the sense of umbrage got in the way of logical thinking here. Would love to see you revisit the matter more trenchantly.

Chris Newfield said...

true about "appear" - that was originally tied to a link that is now further down in the post suggesting her record as manager at DHS was mixed (http://www.aolnews.com/2011/02/16/dhs-interior-among-5-of-the-worst-run-federal-programs/). I had to wade through a lot of right-wing attacks on her to find that. If you know of a more definitive analysis of her management outcomes please do post the link.
This is undoubtedly not our last post on this topic.

Chris Newfield said...

a couple of Napolitano speeches at universities:

Pomona College graduation 2010

SJSU in 2012: cybersecurity. interesting to read this one post-PRISM.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget her speech to Walmart customers:


Chris Newfield said...

hmm. and what was her role in developing Obama's Insider Threat Program, "that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions"

Anonymous said...

I would really like to know the answer to that question, too. I haven't seen anything published about how the idea got generated. When I first saw mention of it, I assumed it was her input, or the input of her office.

Anonymous said...

I think they chose her BECAUSE she is top cop. They perceive the UC system NEEDS a top cop to keep the students and professors in line and prevent them from asserting their inclinations to have meaningful scholarly programs on campus. Ergo, to dismantle the UC educational system that is reknown for scholarship, innovation, and discovery. To make the UC system more malleable and palatable to corporate manipulations. I hope I'm wrong!!

BSC (Hons) in IT said...

Although i never heard her name but i guess she must be multi talented lady.. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

It could be worse. You could have hired a conservative like Mitch Daniels who has spent much of his career destroying public education, a la Purdue.

Chris Newfield said...

strange, I was just thinking about Daniels and this long report http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/04/02/purdues-mitch-daniels-challenging-higher-education-leadership

it's fairly positive about him, but does say that the one idea he always has is cutting budgets. I'd be interested to know more from Purdue or Indiana folks about whether he's had any positive effect at all on the legislature

Anonymous said...

Daniels is also about censorship in education


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