University of California President Janet Napolitano was in Sacramento last week for UC’s graduate research advocacy day, meeting with legislators and hosting a luncheon to honor 22 graduate students.
She sat down with The Sacramento Bee to discuss what she considers “the best public research university in the country” and other topics in California higher education.
Napolitano was joined by UC Berkeley biology professor Randy Schekman, who won the Nobel Prize for medicine last year for his discoveries related to the process of protein secretion.
“The Legislature knows the universities from the perspective of the undergraduates,” Schekman said. “But the lifeblood of an institution like Berkeley or UCLA or any UC campus is faculty and what they do, which is not only to teach but to do research.”
The federal government accounts for the majority of that research support, though. So is it a matter of looking for more support from California?
Napolitano: It’s part of our DNA, as it were. We are not the University of California if we do not have a robust graduate and research program. We’d like to see some more general support for research that could come from the state of California.
To have these public graduate programs, which attract students from all over the world, and faculty, but who end up staying in California and are part of the brain trust of California, you don’t get that for free. You’ve got to support it in the right way.
Have you been talking with legislators and the governor about specific things you want to see in the budget?
Napolitano: One of the things we’re advocating for in the budget is for additional funds that would go … to help with overall excellence. That can be graduate student support, it can be faculty recruitment and retention, it can be all kinds of things. But it’s a key difference between the governor’s request, which is a good place to start. I’d rather start from a 5 percent increase than a cut, which is what we had in the last few years, but doesn’t really get us and keep us at the next level.
We like the 9 percent (increase) in the Assembly budget, because the difference there can be put to real good use. And that equates to about $142 million more, in a university system that has undergone significant cuts. At the same time, we’re looking throughout the system at places where we can save money and bend our own cost curve down.
You really can’t turn around in California without finding something that the UC has contributed to. We want to be able to continue to do that.
The UC last week updated its sexual violence policy, and there was the Title IX complaint from the group of students at Berkeley. I know you had a statement on it, but there are specific things you think the UC system can be doing better or more to deal with this issue on campus?
Napolitano: I want to be sure that whatever institution one attends in the UC system has a strong policy against sexual violence of any sort or harassment of any sort, that victims have a place to go and get appropriate services, that investigations are conducted by properly trained investigators and that consequences are imposed against perpetrators. I think that’s a pretty quick summary of all the things that have been going through my mind.
There’s been this effort to repeal part of Proposition 209 (which prohibits admissions preferences on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity) with relation to public universities winding its way through the Legislature. It passed the Senate in January and if it passes the Assembly, it will go before voters in November. Is this something that you think the University of California system would support?
Napolitano: That you have to address to the regents, because they will set the policy on a bill like that. … One of the things I am doing is making sure that, where 209 is concerned, that it’s being interpreted and applied correctly, so that we can do effective outreach and other activities in historically underrepresented groups. So, I’m not trying to duck the question, I’m just saying I can’t with the paper say, “This is the position of the University of California.” Not yet.
The SAT changes: Is that something that will be affecting the university?
Napolitano: Just reading about them, and I have spoken with David Coleman, who’s head of the College Board, I think they’re really, well, they’re good changes. … I’m glad they got rid of the writing part, because the criticisms of that were right on spot.
Call The Bee’s Alexei Koseff, (916) 321-5236. Follow him on Twitter @akoseff.