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UC regents take first steps to investigate alleged interference in state audit surveys

University of California regents took the first steps Thursday to investigate allegations that central administrators improperly interfered with a state audit on the financial operations of the UC office of the president.

In a unanimous vote at a hastily arranged special meeting, the Board of Regents authorized the hiring of an independent investigator to assist in uncovering the facts surrounding the allegations.

Board Chairwoman Monica Lozano said she called the special meeting — regents participated via phone from throughout the state — to demonstrate that the board took the allegations seriously and would swiftly address them.

“I believe it is imperative for this board to send a strong signal to our many constituents that the entire board is fully engaged in this effort and committed to full transparency and accountability,” Lozano said.

In her report last month, State Auditor Elaine Howle said her auditors sent confidential surveys to officials at the system’s 10 campuses, asking them to evaluate services and programs provided by UC President Janet Napolitano’s office.

But Napolitano’s office improperly intervened, she said, previewing the campus responses and in some cases suggesting changes that resulted in more positive evaluations.

Napolitano has said her staff was responding to campus requests for help and had no improper motive. But she has apologized for the actions and reiterated Thursday that such “coordinated efforts” would not be repeated in any future audits.

“I welcome quick action by the board,” Napolitano said, supporting the call for an outside investigator. She added, however, that she hoped that “all of the circumstances” surrounding the surveys would be examined, including the campus confusion over them.

Lozano said she and four other regents will lead a fact-finding review of the allegations, assisted by the outside law firm or consultant hired. The full board will then decide what, if any, action should be taken.

Howle will present the audit findings to the regents at their May 18 meeting in San Francisco.

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Twitter: @teresawatanabe

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