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Praise, Skepticism for UC's Choice of Napolitano

DHS photo/Barry Bahler

Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies before the Senate Homeland Security Committee in March 2012.

DHS photo/Barry Bahler

Janet Napolitano gets strong praise for her personal and political skills.

“She has great strength of character.  She’s resilient.  She can take a hit,” says Peter Likins who was was University of Arizona President while Napolitano was the state’s Democratic governor.

Likins recalls one time during budget talks when she negotiated directly with Republican legislative leaders.   “She had such intellectual firepower and such toughness in the negotiation that she got a remarkably good budget – out of a not only a Republican-dominated legislature but a conservative Republican legislature,” Likins told Capital Public Radio's Insight.  “So yeah, she’s tough!”

She’ll have to be.

Most university presidents have academic experience – and know their way through university bureaucracies.  Napolitano will have to pick that up on the job.  Likins says she’ll have no trouble with that.  But others are skeptical.

One UC faculty member described her in a blog post as “unqualified to be a university president.”  Academic experience matters, he wrote.  You wouldn’t hire a Dean of Engineering to be a police chief.

“It’s an unorthodox appointment but it’s certainly not unprecedented,” says CSU East Bay Professor Emeritus Henry Reichman, a board member of the American Association of University Professors.

Reichman says the big question is what approach Napolitano will take: “Will she brings her obvious political strength and experience to bear in fighting for the university and its faculty and students in Sacramento?  And leave the educational stuff in the hands of, the faculty, where it belongs?”

Many faculty are upset they’ve been left out of the search process.  The Board of Regents will vote on Napolitano’s nomination on Thursday.


Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio