Editorial Notebook: Will Napolitano follow her own advice?

Published: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 - 12:00 am

In a farewell address Tuesday morning, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano offered some advice to her successor – counsel that she would do well to bear in mind as she assumes her new role as president of the University of California.

Napolitano made little mention of the Department of Homeland Security’s track record on deportations of undocumented immigrants – a focus of student frustration with her appointment. Instead, she focused on the sweeping responsibilities of the department, which deals with emergency responses in events ranging from hurricanes to virus outbreaks.

Near the end of her address, Napolitano laid out her “open letter to my successor.”

“You’ll need to forge strong relationships with all of our partners, including Congress, to make sure DHS has the resources it needs to meet our responsibilities to the American people,” Napolitano said.

Tweak that phrasing just a little bit, and presto, you have an outline of Napolitano’s most important task as she hits the ground in her new position – forging a strong relationship with all of the university’s partners, including state legislators, to make sure UC has the resources it needs.

Although untested in front of a classroom or at the desk of a campus administrator, both undoubtedly traditional prerequisites for a university’s president, Napolitano is set to take the reins at UC at a time of deep divide on its mission. What should UC seek to retain from its storied past? How must it change to adapt to the 21st century? (Just a word of advice to the new UC president: Don’t try to give the actual UC seal a face-lift. It was a debacle for the last person who attempted it.)

Napolitano’s new role will take her to the corridors of power in California, where she will make the bid for sustained state investment in higher education. Her supporters hope that, as a veteran Washington heavyweight, she will carry the kind of clout the UC needs with a Legislature that has been an inconsistent supporter of education.

In her oral “open letter,” Napolitano also noted her successor will “need to support science and technology research.” This remains a critical focus at UC, which is bent on pouring millions into development of online education courses and is home to many leading laboratories, including three national laboratories at UC Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos.

Proper attention to these areas will help UC pull down grants and increase support from the public and private sectors.

Although she may not know it yet, Napolitano’s final advice to her Cabinet replacement will be a good one to remember in her new offices in Oakland: “You will need a large bottle of Advil.”

But in navigating the winding road of higher education in the Golden State, don’t we all? Welcome to California.

Loic Hostetter, a UCLA student, just finished a summer internship with The Bee’s editorial board. Follow him on Twitter at @LoicHostetter.

Read more articles by Loic Hostetter

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