Timeline: How UC President Janet Napolitano confronted the big issues

Janet Napolitano
UC President Janet Napolitano talks with Gov. Jerry Brown during a March 2015 Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)
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Janet Napolitano emerged in July of 2013 as a surprise choice to lead the University of California. At the time, Napolitano headed the office of Homeland Security in the Obama administration. She also had previously served as governor of Arizona. In that state, she was regarded as a strong supporter of education but did not have a background as an academic.

She arrived as the system’s first female president and arguably the first politician to hold the position, which oversees a roughly $36.5-billion system of 10 campuses, five medical centers and three affiliated national laboratories with about 280,000 students. Her pick marked the evolution of the job into one that unapologetically focused on fundraising and advocacy as well as administrative leadership.

When she took the helm, the sprawling system faced the lingering strains of the 2008 recession while trying to maintain the resources and staff required of a world-class institution. Those challenges remain.

Napolitano said she viewed her $570,000-a-year job as being primarily “a huge public advocate for higher ed.”

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Here’s a look at the tenure of Napolitano, who announced her resignation Wednesday.

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July 2013: Napolitano takes top UC post

Napolitano is announced as successor to Mark G. Yudof. Her hiring is a departure for UC, which traditionally had a president with a strong record in campus administration or academic research. Yudof was a former top administrator at state universities in Texas and Minnesota and spent five years as UC president. Napolitano was the U.S. secretary of Homeland Security and former governor of Arizona.

Robert Powell, chairman of UC’s systemwide Academic Senate, consulted on the UC search. He tells The Times that Napolitano stood out among the more than 300 potential candidates. She “demonstrated an outstanding ability to deal with complex organizations under demanding circumstances,” he says.

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July 2013: Confirmed
UC police arrest Alex Aldana
UC police arrest Alex Aldana as he protests the confirmation of Janet Napolitano.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

The UC Board of Regents approves Napolitano as president. The meeting is interrupted by protesters who contend that she should be disqualified because on her watch, Homeland Security expanded deportations.

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October 2013: To the rescue

Napolitano announces that she will authorize $5 million in university funds to help students who entered the country illegally and do not qualify for federal financial aid.

In her first major address since taking office, she also says she will boost support for graduate and postdoctoral researchers by $10 million.

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June 2014: Teaching assistants strike averted

The UC system reaches a tentative agreement on a new contract covering 13,000 teaching assistants, readers and tutors, lifting the threat of a 10-day strike during the coming final exam period at most UC campuses.

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September 2014: Fighting sexual misconduct

In a broad effort to combat sexual misconduct on campus, UC officials unveil a plan calling for mandatory training for all students, staff and faculty, improved support for victims and more thorough investigations.

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Under the UC plan, each campus must have properly trained personnel to investigate sexual assault cases as well as a separate office to provide confidential support and advice to victims, even if no formal criminal or campus complaint is made. UC also wants all students and employees to undergo education on consent in a sexual situation and the consequences for any form of assault, including rape, unwanted fondling or stalking.

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September 2014: Raises for chancellors

The UC regents award pay increases of up to 20% to the chancellors of the Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Merced and Riverside campuses and set the annual salary of the new UC Irvine chancellor, Howard Gillman, at $485,000.

The regents say the raises are a first step over the next three years to bring the 10 campus chancellors up to nationally competitive rates compared to rival research institutions. Some UC chancellors had not had increases in seven years until the previous July, when they received a 3% raise.

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November 2014: Tuition increase
University of California police confront protesters
UC police push student protesters back behind barricades outside a meeting of the Board of Regents in 2014 in San Francisco.
(Eric Risberg / AP)

Napolitano pushes a five-year, 28% tuition hike through the Board of Regents — with the proviso that it would go into effect only if the state fails to increase UC’s funding. The maneuver sparks protests but also helps pressure lawmakers to increase funding.

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May 2015: Tuition deal
Jerry Brown, Janet Napolitano
Gov. Jerry Brown and Napolitano at a UC Board of Regents meeting in March.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Napolitano strikes a deal with Gov. Jerry Brown over her threat to sharply increase tuition. The compromise includes a boost in state funding, a freeze of in-state undergraduate tuition for two years and cost-cutting changes to the UC pension plan for future participants.

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August 2015: Six gender identities

Students applying to the University of California can choose among six gender identities listed on undergraduate admissions forms: male, female, trans male, trans female, gender queer/gender non-conforming and different identity.

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January 2016: Enrollment soars

The UC system scrambles to make room for the largest enrollment boost of California undergraduates in years — 6,500 more for the fall 2016 term, with the most selective campuses taking the most new students. UCLA, Berkeley, San Diego and Riverside each accept 750 more students; systemwide, nearly 14% more state residents are expected to gain admission.

The expansion presses officials to find more housing, hire more faculty and expand support services.

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March 2016: Sex harassment

Napolitano announces a new sexual harassment review process for administrative leaders amid furor over Berkeley’s handling of misconduct claims involving its law school dean.

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“This issue is critically important to the University of California, and to me personally,” she writes. “At a minimum, our employees are entitled to come to work without fear of sexual harassment or sexual violence.”

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March 2016: That audit

The scathing 116-page state report accuses the University of California of hurting local students by admitting too many out-of-state applicants to its campuses. It recommends stricter entrance requirements for nonresident students, a cap on their enrollment and more focus on recruiting Californians — particularly African Americans, Latinos and other underrepresented minorities.

Napolitano denounces the audit’s conclusions as “disappointingly pre-baked” and “unfair and unwarranted.” She says auditors ignored the fact that higher-paying out-of-state students contributed $728 million to UC coffers and allowed the 10-campus system to accept more Californians in the face of massive budget cuts imposed since the 2008 recession.

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January 2017: Hospitalized

Napolitano is hospitalized after suffering side effects during cancer treatment. She also battled cancer before taking the UC post.

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January 2017: Protecting immigrants
UC President Janet Napolitano
Napolitano reiterates her vow to protect students in the country illegally at a Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Napolitano assures vulnerable immigrant students that despite fear and uncertainty about President Trump’s intentions, the university will protect them.

“UC chancellors and I have reaffirmed our intentions to ensure that every corner of the University of California remains welcoming, safe and inclusive for all,” Napolitano says at a two-day meeting of the Board of Regents in San Francisco.

Trump had signed executive orders signaling a crackdown on illegal immigration, but had not yet moved to end an Obama administration program that deferred deportation of young people who are in the country illegally. The program, Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was created by Napolitano when she served as Homeland Security secretary under Obama.

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April 2017: Excessive salaries, mishandled money

A state audit finds that the UC system pays its executives salaries and benefits significantly higher than those given to state employees in similar roles, and failed to disclose up to $175 million in budget reserve funds as it recently proposed a raise in tuition.

UC regents agree to carry out state auditor recommendations after the revelations. Calls for Napolitano’s resignation subside after the auditor finds no “nefarious” conduct on her part.

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June 2017: Demand for legal services
Attorney Amy Frances Barnett, left, advises a UC Davis student at the UC Immigrant Legal Services Ce
Attorney Amy Frances Barnett advises a UC Davis student at the Immigrant Legal Services Center.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

As uncertainty over Trump’s immigration policies mounts, attorneys at the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center have become academia’s go-to experts.

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September 2017: Napolitano sues

Napolitano files suit in federal court to prevent the Trump administration from taking action against unauthorized immigrants who entered the country as children. The federal action could have stripped these immigrants of their ability to live, study and work in the U.S.

It was Napolitano, in her prior job as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who had signed the original directive that created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gave education and employment rights to these immigrants.

“I recognize that it is unusual for a former Cabinet official to sue the agency she once led,” she writes. “It may be even more unusual to challenge as unconstitutional, unjust and unlawful the elimination of a program originally established by the plaintiff — me — in this litigation.”

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November 2017: Audit interference
Janet Napolitano
Napolitano in April 2017.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

An investigation ordered by UC regents finds that top Napolitano aides interfered with a state audit of her office’s finances, suppressing campus criticism of its services and operations.

Napolitano approved a plan instructing UC campuses to submit responses to confidential questionnaires for review by each college’s chancellor and her aides before returning them to the state auditor, according to the report. Those steps and others “constituted interference,” the investigation says.

UC regents admonish Napolitano for agreeing to the plan. Napolitano apologizes. The regents unanimously agree to support her continued leadership.

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May 2018: Leaner budget

UC regents unanimously approve a leaner, more transparent budget for Napolitano, moving to address criticism over the system’s central office operations.

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September 2018: SAT and ACT

University of California faculty leaders announce they will launch a study aimed at finding out whether SAT and ACT college admissions tests accurately predict college success.

Those who want the nation’s most prestigious public university system to make the standardized tests optional for admissions see it as a positive sign.

More than 1,000 universities across the country — including the elite University of Chicago — no longer require the tests, which have come under growing criticism.

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August 2018: More autonomy
Napolitano, Christ
Napolitano with Carol Christ after she is confirmed as the new chancellor of UC Berkeley in March 2017.
(Paul Chinn / Chronicle)

Campus leaders say they want more autonomy from Napolitano’s office even as they value many of the systemwide services it provides.

Their opinions are expressed in a new study obtained by The Times that was commissioned by the UC Board of Regents after the audit interference fiasco. Consultants interviewed 74 senior campus leaders, including all 10 chancellors, to gauge their views of the services and programs provided by the UC Office of the President.

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May 2019: Foreign and out-of-state tuition

The UC Regents approve a $762 tuition increase for students who live outside of California, with an amendment to set aside some of that money for financial aid.

UC has long relied for budget help on the high fees paid by foreign and out-of-state students. Advocates for the nonresident students protested that they were bearing too great a financial burden.

The increase is the fifth in a row for nonresident students. Tuition will rise to $42,324 including the $12,570 base.

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June 2019: College admissions scandal

The University of California releases sweeping recommendations to avoid potential fraud and conflicts of interest in admitting students, a response to

the national college admissions scandal.

The recommendations, which Napolitano says she plans to carry out, include stronger verification of claims on students’ applications, reviews of potential links between donors and applicants, and stricter scrutiny of those admitted for special talents, such as athletes and artists.

Napolitano says she ordered an internal audit to come up with the recommendations as a “proactive step” to protect the integrity of the UC system.


Javier Panzar is a reporter and digital editor for the Los Angeles Times.
Howard Blume covers education for the Los Angeles Times. He’s won the top investigative reporting prize from the L.A. Press Club and print Journalist of the Year from the L.A. Society of Professional Journalists chapter. He co-hosts “Deadline L.A.” on KPFK, which the press club named best radio public affairs show in 2010. He teaches tap dancing and has two superior daughters. 
Teresa Watanabe covers education for the Los Angeles Times. Since joining the Times in 1989, she has covered immigration, ethnic communities, religion, Pacific Rim business and served as Tokyo correspondent and bureau chief. She also covered Asia, national affairs and state government for the San Jose Mercury News and wrote editorials for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. A Seattle native, she graduated from USC in journalism and in East Asian languages and culture.