The Senate Source

April 2014

Q&A with UC President Janet Napolitano

The Senate Source recentlyasked President Napolitano, who completed her sixth month as UC President on March 30, for her views on some of the most important issues facing the University.

Janet Napolitano

Senate Source: What attracted you to the position of President of the University of California?

President Napolitano: I have spent much of my life in public service. As governor of Arizona, I was a champion of the state’s public universities, and I became familiar with higher education issues nationally as chair of the National Governors Association. After serving as a Cabinet secretary for more than four years, I was asked by a search firm if I might be interested in being a candidate for the presidency of the University of California system. As I learned about the mission, accomplishments, complexities and needs of the UC system, I came to believe I could make a difference as the president of this great university. The prospect of making a difference within an institution that has such great impact – from California to the nation and across the world – is what attracted me to the UC presidency.

What was notable in your interactions with faculty during your campus visits?

Seeing faculty in action, in classrooms and labs, was invaluable. I found the reach and quality of faculty work amazing and inspiring. I learned a lot about the depth and breadth of the university’s teaching and research missions from our conversations. I was struck by how much of our faculty’s work is interdisciplinary. And I quickly came to appreciate the faculty commitment to service, community and shared governance.

What would you like to address and achieve before the end of your first year? Has this changed since you took office on September 30? How can the Senate help you attain these goals?

At the top of my list is a long-term budget agreement with the state. Fiscal stability is essential for ensuring excellence across the board. That will require a combination of efficiencies, adequate state funding and predictable tuition levels. Successful implementation of the initiatives I have launched is also a critical priority. I’m excited about a new initiative aimed at strengthening relationships between UC and Mexico.

Since becoming president, I have come to value the importance of shared governance. I rely on Senate insights and assistance in accomplishing shared goals. Two examples of productive collaboration: the Senate’s central role in the rapid response to the Moreno Report and George Johnson’s co-chairmanship of the Transfer Action Team.

What do you consider to be the major issues and challenges facing the University over the next 5 to 10 years? How can the Senate help address these challenges?

Cost, capacity and community encompass some of our greatest challenges as we fortify the University of California’s ability to teach for California and research for the world. A major challenge, as always, is to ensure that UC has the resources necessary to support the faculty’s excellent teaching and research. We also must control costs to keep a UC education affordable for students across the economic spectrum and expand capacity. Technology can – and will – expand capacity and, if wisely implemented, improve learning.

Challenges facing the world are our challenges, too: sustainability, social mobility, the role of technology, and health. These are challenges we should and will take up on behalf of California, our nation and the world.


President Napolitano is sharing monthly email messages with faculty, staff, and students to help foster ongoing dialogue with the UC community.  The monthly emails will give the president an opportunity to share her views on important issues facing the university. They will also allow faculty, staff and students to hear directly from her and engage with her regularly.

Faculty, staff and students began receiving a one-time email invitation in late January to opt in to the monthly messages. Ongoing receipt of the monthly email is voluntary; and recipients can opt out at any time. Employees who may have missed the president’s invitation may sign up for her monthly newsletter at


The legislature tends to be interested primarily in undergraduate education. How do you plan to convey to the legislature and the public the value of graduate education and UC’s research mission?

We must be prepared to fight every day to protect and nurture excellence. Graduate education and research are foundational to UC as one of the leading public research universities. Yet too few Californians are aware of the benefits of UC research, or of the centrality of graduate education to the research mission, and the impact of both to the undergraduate experience. One effective way to make the research mission real to policy makers is to take researchers to them. In March, for example, I joined Nobel laureate Randy Schekman of UC Berkeley and other faculty and graduate researches in meeting with legislators as part of UC Graduate Research Day in Sacramento. We have to tell our story over and over, in many different ways. We’re doing that, and looking, always, for better ways to communicate the impact of UC teaching and research.

The Senate views the student-faculty ratio as a cornerstone measure of excellence, and is concerned that the ratio has been rising as campuses struggle to recruit and replace faculty in proportion to growing student numbers. How can we ensure this measure of quality is maintained?

Growing our faculty is among our highest priorities, and it is part of our efforts to make sure as many resources as possible are focused on the core missions of the University – education, research and service. Part of this is achieving efficiencies wherever possible with regard to other costs.

In your view as of now, how can the University continue to fulfill its commitment to the Master Plan provision to admit 12.5% of the state’s public high school graduates in the face of severe State budget cuts? What do you see as the implications if UC supports enrollments that are not consistent with state funding?

UC has been a good soldier in continuing to honor the Master Plan commitment without commensurate funding. Now it’s time for the state to do its part by increasing enrollment funding. This is a very high priority in our current budget work. As evidenced by the Assembly budget proposal, it’s a high priority for many members of the Legislature as well. Beyond funding for the students we already have, we need to make the case to the state that building capacity is essential. I look forward to working with the other segments of California higher education to make this case.

What are your priority goals for your transfer initiative? What is your current thinking about how you will work with the Senate to achieve these goals? Has this evolved since you arrived at UC?

I’ve been very impressed by how the Senate has stepped up on this issue, with George Johnson co-chairing our transfer action team. Senate Chair Bill Jacob has been a consistent supporter of transfer education, and is very effective on these issues in Sacramento. My goal is to make the transfer process smoother for students and increase their overall success. In addition, I'd like to broaden the number of colleges that we draw from, to increase opportunity for students and to bring more of the rich diversity in the community college system into UC. One area of joint interest to the Senate is continued work on streamlining requirements so that students can prepare for multiple UC campuses and even for CSU without duplicated or unnecessary coursework. Here we need to balance the desire for simplicity with the importance of sound preparation. Our transfer students need to enter prepared to graduate, and to graduate in a reasonable time frame. But I think we can simplify our requirements without sacrificing those goals. So I will be looking to the Senate for help on that.

In the context of UC’s federated structure, what can you do as President to support a diverse student and faculty population at UC?

I hope I can help by being a champion and advocate for our values and by being a very visible spokesperson for the importance of higher education. I can also seed new ideas – something I’m trying to do, for example, with the one-time funding I provided to expand services to undocumented students and to provide additional support for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows pursuing diversity-oriented research. I believe the transfer initiative will provide other opportunities to expand access. We hope these steps will help increase diversity. UC’s decentralization is a strength: It means we have sources of innovation, of good ideas and good programs. From OP we can identify strong programs and best practices on all of the campuses and help spread those to other locations.

In your time at UC so far, have you formed any expectations about consultation with the Senate? What do you hope for from active consultation with the Senate?

I am always enriched by my consultation with the Senate. Hearing from those who are actually doing the instruction and research that are the heart of our institution is critical. And, of course, I defer to the Senate on matters relating to instruction, curriculum, the evaluation of academic merit and all the other areas that are squarely within the domain of the faculty. We will likely disagree from time to time. But even in those cases, I am better for hearing faculty opinions.