Janet Napolitano on California and the UC System

Jane Napolitano, President of the University of California

Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California, said the university is "in a state of excitement" after closing a multi-year budget deal with Governor Jerry Brown last Spring and that she now wants to "ratchet down' student fees amid the rise of student debt. Speaking to a LAWAC dinner on February 3rd, Napolitano said that to convince Governor Brown to allocate more funds, she told him "California would not be California without the UC system." As former Secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano also talked about her thoughts on the current state of national security saying she believes we are better off than we were pre-9/11, but that there is deep concern for the increase in cyber threats and an ongoing concern about aviation security.

When Napolitano left her job as Governor of Arizona in 2009, the entire state budget was $9.8 billion. The University of California currently has a budget of $27 billion a year - almost three times as big. Napolitano compared the extensive 10-campus university system to a "moderately large state with a large population of 18-year olds." Faced with rising student debt, students protesting for first amendment rights, and the need to change the system's revenue model, Napolitano said of her job, "it gets crazy sometimes."

Last May, Napolitano concluded a hard-fought deal to stabilize university finances with Governor Jerry Brown, after she and the governor formed "a committee of two" to hash out their differences - a process she said was "interesting". This deal maintained a freeze on in-state tuition fees for two more years, while increasing out of state fees. The budget-conscious Brown had been reluctant to allocate more funds, but Napolitano argued strongly that the UC system contributed enormously to the state's economy, and emphasized that it is the leading public research university system "arguably in the world". The committee of two went head to head, "we gave up some things, he gave up some things" - and a deal was struck. Napolitano added, "We're going to fight for more."

On battling the rise of student debt, Napolitano argued that UC schools are different. "For every dollar received in tuition, one-third goes in to aid," she said. With all the financial aid programs currently in place, "almost half of UC students graduate with no debt at all" and those who do have debt average about $20,000." But nonetheless she said she aims to "ratchet that down."

On diversity, Napolitano said, the key ingredient is "active listening" and it is important to "not only have that dialog when something bad is happening." Drafting a policy on intolerance to suit everyone is "more difficult than you would think" and the UC schools will be one of the few universities in the US to adopt such a policy and "I think we'll do it in March."

Also on Napolitano's agenda is adding more California residents to the student body. "We had previously planned to add 10,000 students over 4 years - we're accelerating that to 3." This year for the fall of 2016, we're aiming to enroll 5,000 more California students. "That's a lot of work."

When asked about the recent UCLA Medical Center hack, in which 4.5 million patient records were stolen by hackers operating from offshore servers, Napolitano said, "what we are doing is what every responsible institution does - watching for malware that indicates that our systems have been hacked." She said nefarious activity attempts are usually made on more than one campus at a time and that when there is a security breach, it's very expensive. Just mailing out notices to alert everyone about the UCLA Medical Center hack cost $4.5 million.

Cyber threats are not new territory for Napolitano, who saw these types of threats increase in her previous role as Secretary of Homeland Security. When asked if she thinks we're better off now, Napolitano said, "In how we recognize and mitigate threats, we are better off than we were prior to 9/11." But she said we haven't eliminated threats, as illustrated by the shootings in San Bernardino. "Risks are now part of life in the United States," she said, and cited a continuing threat to public aviation due to terrorists' preoccupation with attacks on planes. "You have to do everything you can to reduce the nature of those risks, the frequency of the risks," she said. "And then you have to improve your ability for communities to respond....physically, by law enforcement, and medically."

Looking forward, Napolitano faces the challenge of reinventing the UC business model as she builds a University of the 21st Century. With the strain on public finances she says revenue will need to come from engaging the UC's 1.7 million living alums and getting more people in the university involved. "It's going to have to be a full community effort."