University of California President Janet Napolitano to step down

University of California President Janet Napolitano announced her resignation Wednesday during a UC Board of Regents meeting in Los Angeles.

She will officially step down after the 2019-20 academic year, which will be her seventh year in the job.

“The decision was tough — and this moment, bittersweet — but the time is right,” Napolitano, 61, said in a statement. “With many of my top priorities accomplished and the university on a strong path forward, I feel it’s the ideal time for a leadership transition — an infusion of new energy and fresh ideas at the university.”

Napolitano battled breast cancer in 2016 and 2017, but said she’s now in remission and that the illness didn’t affect her decision to leave. Instead, she cited new Gov. Gavin Newsom and changing leadership on the UC Board of Regents as signals that it was time for her to hand the reins to someone new.

“It seemed like a good time to have some fresh blood,” she told reporters on a call Wednesday.

Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, became the first woman to lead the UC system in 2013.

At the time, her appointment sparked student protests over the record number of immigrants deported during her time as homeland security secretary under President Barack Obama. But as UC president, Napolitano became an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. She blasted his Trump’s effort to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for young immigrants she calls “Dreamers.”

“At the University of California, we see the exceptional contributions that ‘Dreamers’ make every day,” she said in 2017. “They really represent the spirit of the American dream, and by its action, the administration has bashed those dreams.”

In a news release announcing her resignation, the UC system highlighted her work toward making UC buildings and vehicles carbon emissions neutral by 2025 and efforts to increase state and federal financial aid for UC students.

During her tenure, Napolitano frequently had to balance the interests of California residents hoping to enroll in the UC system and the benefits of higher tuition payments from out-of-state and international students.

Napolitano oversaw a plan to enroll 10,000 more California students at UC’s nine undergraduate campuses as part of a deal with former Gov. Jerry Brown to delay tuition hikes.

The UC would eventually cap enrollment of out-of-state and international students in response to political pressure. Napolitano called the policy an “appropriate balance.”

Eventually, the tuition hikes came: The university ended a six-year tuition freeze and raised undergraduate tuition in 2017. Napolitano argued it was necessary to support the university’s growing student body even as state funding declined.

Even before the rise of the #MeToo movement, the UC system was rocked by allegations that several high-ranking administrators and professors had sexually harassed students and employees.

Napolitano has repeatedly issued updates to the university’s sexual violence and harassment policies, such as requiring every UC employee to notify the Title IX office if they receive any information that a student has been a victim of sexual harassment or sexual violence.

In 2017, a state audit that alleged Napolitano’s office hid $175 million from the public while tuition increased. At the time, she apologized for the way her office handled the audit but disputed some of its findings. She said Wednesday that her office has adopted a more transparent budgeting process as a result.

Napolitano’s tenure also saw the 2016 resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi amid allegations that Katehi engaged in nepotism, misuse of student funds and lying about her involvement in hiring firms to bolster her reputation and the university’s.

Napolitano will formally step down from her post Aug. 1, 2020. She will then take some time off before joining the faculty at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy.

She says she doesn’t have plans to run for public office again, but declined to rule out the possibility.

“i have no intention in those regards, but you never say never, and I won’t say never,” she said.

In the meantime, she said she will continue to pursue an ambitious agenda in her final year as president, including working to improve graduation rates for low-income students and reducing student homelessness and hunger.

“The university is better off today than when Janet took over as president,” said George Kieffer, the immediate past Board of Regents chair. “It’s been a pleasure, and we look forward still to the next 10 months.”

Board of Regents Chair John Pérez said he will announce a committee to find Napolitano’s replacement by the end of the week.

“I can’t identify a university system that does so much in terms of education, in terms of research and in terms of public service,” Napolitano said. “It has been my great, great honor to lead it.”

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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