In Move to University of California, Napolitano Trades One Challenging Bureaucracy for Another

The departing Homeland Security secretary may have had enough of Washington, but running the financially strained UC system is no cushy gig

  • Share
  • Read Later
Susan Walsh / AP

Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano bid goodbye to Washington Friday, fleeing the federal government gridlock to become president of the University of California. But running one of the world’s leading public research university systems may not feel so far removed from the dysfunction she’s leaving behind.

Public research universities across the country are in crisis. Dwindling government funds and rising costs have left states scrambling to maintain quality, while finding ways to increase revenue and cut budgets. Despite prestigious schools like UCLA and Berkley, the UC system is among the most affected. With a $24 billion budget spread across 10 campuses, more than 220,000 students and 191,000 faculty and staff, it is one of the largest state systems and one of the most expensive to run. Finding more money will be the new president’s priority.

(MORE: Napolitano Leaves Office With Her Border Security Efforts Incomplete)

Napolitano, the first woman to lead the University of California, will have several options for fixing its fiscal problems. She can ask the state — which already contributes 11% of the system’s budget — for more money, hike tuition, cut costs, or raise more money from philanthropists and alumni. Getting further state funds will prove challenging, if not impossible. California’s budget is in dire shape and taxpayers already chipped in through a November ballot initiative that helped the system avoid $1 billion in cuts. But that is far from enough “to keep the university afloat,” says Robert Powell, a chemical engineering professor at UC Davis and a faculty representative to the University of California Board of Regents.

Meanwhile new initiatives meant to strengthen the system have met with resistance. A recent push from the Board of Regents to offer online courses for credit to raise tuition from students outside the university system was opposed by some faculty who believed it would weaken the university’s brand. It has failed to recruit a high number of paying students. And in 2009, during another budget crisis, UC Irvine launched a law school even though the system already had four. “I’ve never heard anyone say there are not enough lawyers in California,” said Pat Callan, the President of the Higher Education Policy Institute who has worked in higher education in the state.

Relying on students to shoulder the costs may not be an option. The decline in state funding has already forced students to take on a larger share of their education costs. In 1990, according to the university’s website, the state funded 78% of the cost of education per UC student. Now that figure stands at 39%. Raising tuition, which is about $13,000 for California students and around $36,000 for those from out of state, would be deeply unpopular. Outgoing president Mark Yudof has raised tuition several times,nearly doubling it since he took the job in 2008.

(MORE: Napolitano: A Safe Pair of Hands for Homeland Security)

If the balance sheet weren’t daunting enough, Napolitano, a lawyer without an academic background, will also arrive at the job as an outsider, which could cause friction among tradition-minded faculty and administrators. But her experience as the governor of Arizona and the leader of a major federal agency will help her face the budgetary and bureaucratic challenges facing the president of any major university system, says Mitch Daniels, the former governor of Indiana who now runs Purdue University.

Those problems, Daniels says, are “more familiar for someone who has been dealing with financial problems regularly in business or elected office as she and I did.” He says the increase in the number of former governors appointed to lead universities is “not an accident…Money was easy in higher education for a long time. Financial stewardship was not as important as keeping everybody happy and [they didn’t] have to make difficult choices among disciplines or competing priorities on the campus. Governors do that all the time.”

10 comments
jack112229
jack112229

The one thing that California needs is an educational system that is afordable to our citizens.  That is what helped going back to the 1940s and because of that our economy became a major economy in the world.  Even business should be able to see that skilled and educated population is a major assett  .

There was a time when school boards that were mostly farm owners only wanted to students to be educated enough to work on a farm.

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

Funny how some people spend their entire lives moving from one bureaucracy to another.  

GeorgeAdamrovich
GeorgeAdamrovich

I think that Obama was banging this women!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

emtb11
emtb11

Oh good, now she is going to give the U.C. system away to illegal aliens. Lucky California.

emtb11
emtb11

@dakinsky @emtb11 True, but without them we would not need the useless Chicano studies department.

aztecian
aztecian

@emtb11 @dakinsky b.s....chicano studies are fundamental for our cultural development and the preservation of our unique history and struggle against white suppression!!!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,106 other followers