US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to head University of California

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Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is resigning her Cabinet post to take the top job at the University of California, replacing retiring UC President Mark Yudof. She will be the first woman in the position.

Saying the Cabinet post has been "the highlight of my professional career," Napolitano made the announcement Friday morning.

"I thank President Obama for the chance to serve our nation during this important chapter in our history," Napolitano said, "and I know the Department of Homeland Security will continue to perform its important duties with the honor and focus that the American public expects."

"While some may consider her to be an unconventional choice, Secretary Napolitano is without a doubt the right person at the right time to lead this incredible university," UC regent Sherry Lansing said in a statement. Lansing praised Napolitano as a “dynamic, hard working, and transformative” leader.

The UC president’s office has typically been occupied by an academic scholar, but Napolitano will bring considerable political skills to the job.

Napolitano will be the first woman to head the UC system; she was also the first female Homeland Security secretary. The 145-year-old system has been struggling to deal with funding cuts to its 10 colleges and five medical schools.

No replacement yet

The Obama administration has not announced who will replace her at Homeland Security, but possibilities include Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA, or head of the TSA John Pistole.

The UC Regents are expected to approve Napolitano’s appointment next week.

President Barack Obama picked Napolitano to head the $60 billion Department of Homeland Security in 2008. Before that she served as governor and attorney general of Arizona.

Napolitano led the burgeoning Department of Homeland Security through a host of policy changes in the post 9/11 era, just the third person to lead the 10-year-old department. She had led the department through a series of policy changes with respect to protecting public safety, including a focus on enforcing immigration laws.

Under her tenure, DHS implemented a wide-spread policy of using prosecutorial discretion when arrested immigrants in the country without permission, saying her department needed to focus its scarce resources on criminals and those who posed a threat to public safety and national security. She also helped establish a plan to provide temporary relief from deportation for thousands of young immigrants who arrived in the United State illegally and who don't have legal status.

A New York native

The University of California system has more than 200,000 students and a budget of more than $20 billion.

Napolitano was born in New York. She went to high school in New Mexico and went to college in California, where she's coming back. She loves the outdoors, including hiking, whitewater rafting and tennis.

Here is Napolitano's complete statement:

"For more than four years I have had the privilege of serving President Obama and his Administration as the Secretary of Homeland Security. The opportunity to work with the dedicated men and women of the Department of Homeland Security, who serve on the frontlines of our nation's efforts to protect our communities and families from harm, has been the highlight of my professional career. We have worked together to minimize threats of all kinds to the American public.

"The Department has improved the safety of travelers; implemented smart steps that make our immigration system more fair and focused while deploying record resources to protect our nation's borders; worked with states to build resiliency and make our nation's emergency and disaster response capabilities more robust; and partnered with the private sector to improve our cybersecurity.

"After four plus years of focusing on these challenges, I will be nominated as the next President of the University of California to play a role in educating our nation's next generation of leaders. I thank President Obama for the chance to serve our nation during this important chapter in our history, and I know the Department of Homeland Security will continue to perform its important duties with the honor and focus that the American public expects."

This story has been updated.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled current UC President Mark Yudof's name.

With contributions by KPCC staff, AP staff, and NPR's Mark Memmott

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