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The University Of California President To Leave Her Post In August


Governor, secretary and president - all titles that have been held by Janet Napolitano - governor of Arizona, secretary of Homeland Security during the Obama administration and president of the University of California system of schools, which has over 285,000 students. Napolitano is leaving that position after seven years in it, so we wanted to speak with her about her time in that office. When my co-host Ailsa Chang spoke with her, she started with an issue that followed Napolitano throughout her tenure - the cost of tuition and the long game of tug of war with the state for more funding.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: The UC system relies, obviously, on public funding. You pushed the state to raise funding. Do you think California has done enough to make sure students are not paying too much tuition?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, you know, the state can always do more. And you know, one of the things I think that still needs to be addressed is, as the university has grown enrollment of California undergrads, the enrollment funding from the state has not kept up. And so that needs to be addressed. But we were able to get additional state funding during my tenure. And as a result, we were able to hold in-state tuition flat every year of my seven years, except one where we raised it 2.5%.

CHANG: That said, during your tenure - I mean, there are several UC schools that frequently make the list of most expensive public universities in the country. Do you feel that a UC education is only for people who can afford it at this point?

NAPOLITANO: Oh, no. Fifty-seven percent of our California undergrads actually pay no tuition. They come from families that make less than $80,000 a year, and therefore, they pay no tuition. You know, where tuition has gone up has been for out-of-state and international students. And you know, I think those students still feel like they're getting a really good deal.

CHANG: I do want to ask how the coronavirus shutdown has affected the finances, though. I mean, California has lost a lot of tax revenue because of the shutdown. Will that mean possible tuition hikes inside the UC system, you think? Should it?

NAPOLITANO: We're not contemplating a tuition hike at this time. Lots of families in California are suffering from economic loss due to the pandemic, so it seems a particularly inappropriate time to raise tuition. At the same time, the governor has proposed a 10% budget cut to the university, and so that means we're going to have to do all we can to contain costs. We've already frozen most of our salaries. The chancellors and I have already taken a 10% salary cut. As well, you know, we'll be looking at going into the bond market.

CHANG: I also want to turn to the social upheaval this country has seen over the past month and how a school system like the UCs responds to the Black Lives Matter movement. The UC regents unanimously voted to support an effort to repeal a ban on affirmative action. Tell me, first of all, what was the thinking behind that at this moment?

NAPOLITANO: Well, the thinking behind it was that there's a bill moving through the California Legislature that will put on the November ballot a repeal of what's called Prop 209. 209 was the measure passed 20-some odd years ago that bans the use of race, ethnicity or gender for a number of things, including college admissions in California. And the board of regents 20-some odd years ago had supported the ban on using race or ethnicity, but this board said, you know what? That was a mistake.

CHANG: Well, beyond admitting more students of color, a larger question is, how do you set them up to succeed once they arrive on campus, not only academically but also socially? How do you do that part?

NAPOLITANO: That's the thing. So you've got to make sure there's a campus climate that is inclusive. You have to make sure that the academic supports are there, as well as things like Black student unions and other affinity-type organizations. So it's a whole mix of things. And in the end, what you want is your students from underrepresented groups to feel that they were in an inclusive campus that supported them and that they were able to access all the resources of the university in a way equal to any other student.

CHANG: Well, do you feel that you personally did enough to create that kind of environment that you were describing now during your tenure?

NAPOLITANO: You know, we did a lot, but you can always do more.

CHANG: Can you point to something that you did during your tenure where you feel like you did try to cultivate that kind of environment to set students of color up to succeed?

NAPOLITANO: One of the things we did was expand our presidential postdoctoral fellows program where we recruit minority students into the postdoc program. And that's where we grow our faculty from, and that's a way of leading directly to the diversity of the professoriate. And that's been very successful.

CHANG: You helped create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, under President Obama. You and the board of regents filed one of the country's earliest lawsuits challenging the Trump administration's efforts to end that program. Of course, the Supreme Court has just blocked those efforts by the administration. But until Congress actually legislates protections into law, nothing is certain for people who are brought into the country illegally as children. So what can the UC system do now to help - or is that even the role of a university system? What do you think?

NAPOLITANO: Well, we have thousands of undocumented students in our student body. Some 17- to 1,800 of them are actually in DACA. Congress needs to get in here and address this and provide permanent relief for young people brought here typically under the age of 6 who've grown up in this country, know only this country as home. So this is an area of the immigration law. If they've got to start somewhere to address our nation's immigration law and the real need to reform it, they should start here.

So we're going to continue that advocacy. But in the meantime, we're going to continue to provide free legal services for our undocumented students. We help them enroll in DACA, re-enroll in DACA, for example. We continue to support having student centers for undocumented students on campuses because, you know, they have special needs and special requirements. So we have student centers to support them in those areas, and we will continue all of those efforts.

CHANG: So what's next? I mean, what's the next big thing for you? Is there a next big thing?

NAPOLITANO: You know, I'm going to join the faculty at the Goldman School of Public Policy at Berkeley. So I'm going to become a faculty member, and I hope to use that perch to continue speaking out on issues that I think are important to the country where I think I have something to contribute - issues about immigration, issues about climate change, issues about Homeland Security, to name but three.

CHANG: Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, at least for a few more months.

Thank you very much for spending this time with us.

NAPOLITANO: Thanks very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.