Monday, November 20, 2017
The SF Chronicle Points a Finger
UC Regents were right to discipline President Napolitano
The University of California regents took disciplinary action against President Janet Napolitano last week, and it was right to do so. Napolitano’s actions were inexcusable, and they point to the larger problems at California’s prized public university system.
The chain of events that led to Thursday’s public admonishment is clear. In October 2016, the state auditor’s office sent two sets of survey questionnaires to each of the 10 UC campuses to obtain honest feedback from the campuses about Napolitano’s administration. Each of the surveys directed the campuses to return them to the state auditor and not to share them outside of the campus.
That’s not what happened, according to an independent report written by retired State Supreme Justice Carlos Moreno and released by the regents last week. Instead, Napolitano approved a plan that involved her chief of staff and his deputy pressuring campuses to change their responses on the surveys from negative responses to positive ones. In some instances, her office also reviewed the responses submitted by the campuses. Napolitano even called the chancellor of UC Santa Cruz after that campus submitted its surveys to the auditor without allowing her office to see them first, suggesting the campus withdraw its responses.
“In short, the review plan was likely to, and in at least one case did, chill campuses’ responses to the State Auditor,” Moreno wrote in his report. That this is inappropriate behavior should have been obvious to everyone involved.
Certainly this seems to have struck Napolitano’s office after the fact. Her chief of staff, Seth Grossman, and his deputy, Bernie Jones, have resigned. Napolitano herself is contrite. “I apologize to the board, the university community and the public at large,” Napolitano told The Chronicle. “I take responsibility. This is a situation that we’ve already taken steps to ensure will not happen again.”
Pressed for details, Napolitano pointed to a new policy issued by UC’s interim chief auditor in May 2017 that said future inquiries from the state auditor’s office should be returned directly to that office. She also said that, in an effort for her office to be “open, transparent and above reproach,” it has reformed its process for making and communicating the university budget.
“Ensuring that our budget, and our process for creating that budget, is clear and transparent to the board, the state Legislature and the public is a big priority for me right now,” Napolitano said. A lack of transparency has been an issue with UC for years — whether the subject is budgets, sexual harassment claims, or survey responses. It infuriates the Legislature and undermines the public’s trust.
Moreno’s report didn’t find sufficient evidence to conclude that Napolitano approved the most damaging interference claims, and the regents have expressed confidence in her continued leadership. But she should understand how serious this matter is — and how it underlines every other problem at the university.