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Outgoing UC President Janet Napolitano On Future Of UC System And What’s Next For Her

Janet Napolitano speaks during a panel discussion in Washington, D.C.
Janet Napolitano speaks during a panel discussion in Washington, D.C.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

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Janet Napolitano will step down as president of the University of California on August 1, ending a seven year tenure as the first woman to be selected as president of the UC.

When she took the post in 2013, Napolitano seemed an unconventional choice to lead the prestigious public university system. She had no ties to UC and no experience in academic leadership in her career.

Napolitano has been governor of Arizona, secretary of U.S. Homeland Security, a federal prosecutor and a partner in a prominent Phoenix law firm. During her tenure at UC, Napolitano won praise for helping to boost enrollment to historic numbers and reforming sexual misconduct policies. She oversaw historic expansions at the 10-campus system and championed immigrant students. More recently, the UC Board of Regents approved her plan to drop the SAT and ACT as an admission requirement.

However, there were also bumps along the road. A state audit in 2016 found that Napolitano’s office not only amassed millions of dollars in reserve funds that weren't disclosed but that top aides also sought to suppress criticism of her office in surveys that were supposed to be confidential and sent directly to the state auditor. State Auditor Elaine Howle’s report said there was “insufficient evidence” to conclude Napolitano knew or approved of any interference. But the investigation and subsequent oversight prompted a rare public rebuke by the UC’s governing Board of Regents, and the university adopted measures to improve transparency.

The final months of her time as UC president have been marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced the UC to have to address not only proposed cuts to state education funding but also how the UC plans to navigate its Fall 2021 semester amid the pandemic. Earlier this month, the UC announced that Michael V. Drake, former president of The Ohio State University, would become the next UC president and the first Black president in the UC’s history.

Today on AirTalk, Ms. Napolitano joins Larry Mantle to look back on her tenure as UC president, share some of the lessons she learned along the way, talk about how the pandemic has affected finances, enrollment and more at the UCs and shed some light on what her plans are after she officially steps down.

With files from the Associated Press


Janet Napolitano, outgoing president of the University of California; she is a former governor of Arizona (2003-2009) and a former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security (2009-2013)