Napolitano exactly the wrong choice to lead UC system

HEAVEN HELP US: A conventional choice for a California bureaucracy terrified of reform.
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HEAVEN HELP US: A conventional choice for a California bureaucracy terrified of reform.

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 its bills – enormous, unruly, bureaucratic, steeped in politics, dominated by unions and other special-interest groups, and plagued with controversy and scandal.

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


Likewise, the UC regents have decided to choose a status-quo candidate as its newest president, giving Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano the nod pending a formal vote. UC Regent Sherry Lansing said in a statement that some might find Napolitano an “unconventional choice,” but Napolitano is as conventional a choice as one might have to run a large bureaucracy.

Based on her tenure in the federal government, she will be an advocate for higher spending, for expanded unionization, and for more of everything that has turned the current university system into such a bureaucratic mess.

Just when the system needed a reformer who might instill competitive reforms and focus on cost-cutting, the system turns to a Washington insider more apt to keep federal funds flowing and student aid primed than to stretch the large budget already there.

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

U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., got it right: “It’s disappointing to see an individual with such a poor record on civil liberties and government transparency selected to run the University of California. University of California students can look forward to the same authoritarian management style Secretary Napolitano brought to the Department of Homeland Security, hardly a bastion of free speech and open government.”

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

UC needs a new administrator who understands the need for real reform, not a bureaucrat who takes a heavy-handed authoritarian approach to most matters. If the system were looking for someone to maintain the status quo, it would have been better to at least have selected an accomplished academic or educator.

Napolitano is the worst of all worlds, which is bad news for taxpayers, students and the state of California.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism for the Franklin Center.



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