U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano speaks during a press conference May 22, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The two-mile-wide Category 5 tornado touched down May 20 killing at least 24 people and leaving behind extensive damage to homes and businesses. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Brett Deering/Getty Images)
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano speaks during a press conference May 22, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The two-mile-wide Category 5 tornado touched down May 20 killing at least 24 people and leaving behind extensive damage to homes and businesses. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Brett Deering/Getty Images)

In a break with tradition, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been nominated to become the next president of the University of California.

The full Board of Regents will act on the recommendation Thursday, July 18, during a special meeting following the board’s regular bimonthly meeting in San Francisco. If approved, Napolitano would succeed Mark G. Yudof, who announced in January that he would step down at the end of August after serving for more than five years.

Napolitano would become the first woman in the university’s 145-year history to serve as president. She is accustomed to being a groundbreaker — she was first woman to head Homeland Security, first woman to serve as attorney general and then governor of Arizona, and the first female valedictorian at her alma mater, Santa Clara University, in 1979.

In the past, those appointed to be the president of a major university system usually have spent the bulk of their careers in higher education.

President Barack Obama released the following statement about Napolitano’s nomination:

“I want to thank Secretary Napolitano for her outstanding work on behalf of the American people over the last four years. At the Department of Homeland Security, Janet’s portfolio has included some of the toughest challenges facing our country. (T)he American people are safer and more secure thanks to Janet’s leadership in protecting our homeland against terrorist attacks. I’ve come to rely on Janet’s judgment and advice, but I’ve also come to value her friendship. And as she begins a new chapter in a remarkable career of public service, I wish her the best of luck.”

Here’s  U-C’s official announcement of the nomination:

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been nominated for appointment as the 20th president of the University of California, it was announced today.

Regent Sherry Lansing, chair of a 10-member special search committee, said Napolitano rose to the top from a large field of candidates and was recommended on a unanimous vote.

The full Board of Regents will act on the recommendation Thursday, July 18, during a special meeting following the board’s regular bimonthly meeting in San Francisco.

“Secretary Napolitano is a distinguished and dedicated public servant who has earned trust at the highest, most critical levels of our country’s government,” Lansing said in a statement. “She has proven herself to be a dynamic, hard-working and transformative leader.

“As governor of Arizona, she was an effective advocate for public education, and a champion for the life-changing opportunities that education provides…Those who know her best say that a passion for education is in her DNA.”

She added: “As Secretary of Homeland Security, she has been an ardent advocate for the federal Dream Act and the architect of a policy that protects from deportation young undocumented immigrants who are pursuing a college education.”

Board Chair Bruce Varner, who served as vice chair of the search committee, noted in a separate statement:  “Throughout her noteworthy career, Secretary Napolitano has built a track record for taking on and tackling the toughest of challenges. She has a reputation for seeing things through, no matter how difficult the effort.

“She has the intellectual curiosity, leadership qualities, personal charm and discipline needed to navigate any future challenges that await this university.

“I anticipate learning much from Secretary Napolitano, given her experience leading large, complex organizations.”

Robert Powell, chair of UC’s systemwide Academic Senate and a faculty representative on the Board of Regents, praised the choice: “In my discussions with her, Secretary Napolitano clearly articulated the view that the University of California must do all it can to ensure not only that it remains the greatest public university in the world in the 21st century, but also that it moves to new heights.

“She has deep respect for the faculty, and she will listen to what we say. She knows that, as the core of what makes UC great, the faculty must have an environment in which they can thrive as scholars and teachers.”

If the regents approve the appointment, Napolitano would become the first woman in the university’s 145-year history to serve as president. She would succeed Mark G. Yudof, who announced in January that he would step down at the end of August after serving for more than five years.

As the twice-elected governor of Arizona, serving from 2003 to 2009, Napolitano was a consistent champion of public education, protecting funding of the state’s universities even as she addressed a $1 billion deficit upon assuming office. By 2006, she had turned the deficit into a $300 million surplus without raising taxes.

Chosen by President Barack Obama to serve as the third Secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano leads a complex array of efforts to safeguard the nation – counterterrorism, border security, immigration enforcement, cybersecurity and disaster preparedness, response and recovery. Homeland Security is the third largest federal department, with a budget of $60 billion, 240,000 employees and 22 agencies and directorates, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Customs and Border Protection, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Coast Guard and Secret Service.

“I am both honored and excited by the prospect of serving as president of the University of California,” said Napolitano.

“I recognize that I am a non-traditional candidate,” she added. “In my experience, whether preparing to govern a state or to lead an agency as critical and complex as Homeland Security, I have found the best way to start is simply to listen.

“If appointed, I intend to reach out and listen to chancellors, to faculty, to students, to the state’s political leaders, to regents, to the heads of the other public higher education systems and, of course, to President Yudof and his team, who have done so much to steer the University of California through some extremely rough waters.”

As UC president, she would lead a system of 10 campuses, five medical centers, three affiliated national laboratories and a statewide agriculture and natural resources program. The UC system has more than 234,000 students, about 208,000 faculty and staff, more than 1.6 million living alumni and an annual operating budget of more than $24 billion.

Napolitano, 55, was born in New York City and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Albuquerque, N.M., before coming to California for her college education. She was graduated from Santa Clara University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She was selected as the university’s first female valedictorian, and also won a Truman Scholarship, a prestigious fellowship for college students who possess leadership potential and an interest in government or public service.

After earning her law degree from the University of Virginia, she went to Arizona in 1983 to serve as a clerk for Judge Mary M. Schroeder of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and later practiced law in Phoenix at the firm of Lewis and Roca, where she became a partner in 1989. She was the first female Attorney General of Arizona, from 1998 to 2003, and served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona from 1993 to 1997.

Napolitano was named one of the top five governors in the country by Time magazine. As the first woman to chair the National Governors Association, she launched the “Innovation America” initiative to align K-12 and higher education curricula to better prepare students for a global economy and strengthen the nation’s competitiveness by improving its capacity to innovate.

At the Department of Homeland Security, she has championed cutting-edge research and development, investing more than $2.2 billion in state-of-the-art solutions at national labs and universities across the country to protect people and critical infrastructure.

Under her leadership, Homeland Security also has strengthened its outreach efforts to academic institutions through the establishment of the Office of Academic Engagement, and she created the Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council, involving leadership from more than 20 universities and colleges around the country.

She has repeatedly testified about the need for comprehensive immigration reform and, earlier this year, she served as the Administration’s sole witness in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill.  She also testified before the Senate in support of the Dream Act and defended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process in a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.

The Special Committee to Consider the Selection of a President, assisted by the national executive search firm Issacson, Miller, was involved in recruiting, screening and interviewing candidates. More than 300 possible candidates were considered.

 

 

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor