The Obama Administration’s former Homeland Security Chief has taken over the University of California. “Janet Napolitano had zero experience leading a college before she became president of the University of California last year,” Eric Kelderman wrote in The Chonicle of Higher Education on February 21, 2014. “Yet after just four months on the job, Ms. Napolitano, 56, has outlined major goals for the system, including a reconsideration of tuition policies, improving cooperation with the other two higher-education systems in the state, ensuring the prominent role of research and graduate education, and making the campuses carbon-neutral by 2025.”
“She even has a slogan for her agenda: ‘Teach for California, Research for the World.’”
Napolitano joins the unprecedented cadre of Obama Administration officials in academe—at least two dozen. Moreover, their ready acceptance in the Ivory Tower is indicative of the political climate there.
Republican scholars can’t get teaching jobs with much weightier academic credentials. Clearly, as the carbon-neutrality pledge indicates, having “congenial” views in academia carries much more weight.
Moreover, the enthusiasm over Napolitano’s appointment hints that what is most prized in academic circles is not the ability to make scholarship but the ability to make rain.
“None of her goals are unusual in higher education, but they would be challenging even if Ms. Napolitano had spent her entire career on a college campus,” Kelderman wrote. “That deficit on her résumé has not been a serious impediment so far, however, and may even be an asset, observers say, as she seeks to lead the system past the fiscal, operational, and political challenges it has faced since the recession.”
“Robert D. Samuels, president of the University-Council American Federation of Teachers, the union that represents the system’s faculty members, said it was no accident that Ms. Napolitano was hired right after the federal budget cuts forced by sequestration.”
“She does have a close connection with the federal government and is a high-profile person who can deal with the governor,” Samuels stated.
“Ms. Napolitano, too, said she was relying on the breadth of her political skills and connections in securing support for the system, both in California and in Washington,” Kelderman reported.
“I have a lot of experience managing large public institutions,” Napolitano claimed, adding that “they all involve politics in some way or another; it’s not as if higher education is divorced from that.”