The Board of the San Diego Faculty Association (SDFA) is concerned about the nomination of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as President of the University of California, as well as with the secretive manner in which the Regents of UC arrived at the nomination. Regrettably, the Regents have instructed Secretary Napolitano not to comment on her nomination until her appointment is confirmed.
In light of this secrecy, the Board urges the Regents to extend the period for consideration before voting to confirm the nomination. This would give UC faculty more time to digest a nomination that has been met with widespread surprise and unease across the various campuses.
As was true of all the other candidates considered, Napolitano’s candidacy was shrouded in secrecy and effectively precluded the meaningful participation of UC faculty. We are reliably informed that at least three candidates for the position—Janet Napolitano, Colin Powell and Leon Panetta—derived from very similar administrative positions that involve the military, security, secretiveness and programs that have been criticized for impinging on or violating the civil rights of American citizens. If so, then the Regents’ apparent predilection for a President with technocratic experience that has been gained in a highly secretive demimonde is unsettling. It does a disservice to the transparency of information and free exchange of ideas that guides UC and diminishes the principle of joint governance that has sustained the University for so long.
We note that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) strongly recommends against secretive selection processes. According to AAUP’s “1966 Statement on Government”: “The selection of a chief administrative officer should follow upon a cooperative search by the governing board and the faculty, taking into consideration the opinions of others who are appropriately interested.” AAUP’s 1981 statement on “Faculty Participation in the Selection, Evaluation, and Retention of Administrators” is even more trenchant: here, AAUP “emphasizes the primary role of faculty and board in the search for a president.”
Many faculty are troubled by the fact that Secretary Napolitano has only slight professional experience in higher education. These colleagues therefore raise important concerns about her nomination in an epoch when public universities are battling an array of corrosive and disabling challenge. On the other hand, other faculty note that the absence of a lengthy background in higher education has not always prevented nominees from serving as good and able stewards at major universities. At our own UC, Charles Hitch was recruited from the Department of Defense to serve as UC President from 1968\75. Hitch navigated this turbulent period with diplomatic skill, fending off attacks from a hostile Governor and Legislature and virtual rebellion from students, gradually winning the support of undecided faculty. It is therefore not inconceivable that Secretary Napolitano might acquit herself well as President of UC.
However, there is widespread concern amongst faculty that Secretary Napolitano’s particular background raises distinctively different problems that might undermine her tenure as President of UC. If her nomination were confirmed, Secretary Napolitano would come to UC with experience and skills acquired in the overlapping domains of security, surveillance, intelligence, immigration and border control, and the growing involvement of corporate interests in all of these. For many faculty and students, expertise acquired in secretive, often furtive, bureaucratic sectors is not propitious for the successful management of a sometimes fractious public institution of higher education. They fear that UC would be systematically linked to, or even incorporated into domains that, by definition, are inhospitable to unrestricted intellectual inquiry and creativity. Legitimate concerns therefore arise about how the Secretary would respond to issues that are bothersome to bureaucrats, but the life\blood of a vibrant academic institution.
Faculty rightly ask how Secretary Napolitano would respond to expressions of dissent both on and off campus; the balance between free and hate speech; or demands for her to protect the intellectual property rights of faculty. Given the role she played in securing more deportations of undocumented immigrants compared to all previous administrations combined, faculty want to know her views on matters such as Proposition 209 and if her support for the Dream Act is unequivocal. They want to know her views on faculty insistence on greater financial and administrative transparency; whether she approves of calls to expose UC’s dealings with the military; and whether she would adopt the Master Plan as her yardstick. As an index of the unusual anxieties her nomination has raised, many even want to know if she would channel UC’s resources into research on weapons of mass detruction, cyber\warfare, and surveillance. These concerns are neither fanciful nor inappropriate. As Secretary, Napolitano authorized contentious federal policies that have raised alarm about privacy rights across the political spectrum. Under her watch, for example, federal officials have been able to confiscate and search through travelers’ computers without a warrant.
Secretary Napolitano’s unusual background also makes her nomination unusual for the UC community. The Board of the SDFA therefore calls on the Regents to extend the period in which faculty and students may comment on the Secretary’s nomination.
Board of the SDFA
15 July 2013