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PD Editorial: A hasty path to vote on UC president

  • (TOM MEYER / meyertoons.com)

By the end of the day, the University of California may have a new president.

A positive development? It may be.

Then again, maybe not.

If you're puzzled as we are, or if this entire discussion seems rather sudden, you're not alone. The university is racing ahead at a rate uncharacteristic of institutions of higher learning or state government in general.

Janet Napolitano's surprise nomination was announced only Friday. Six days later, the Board of Regents is scheduled to vote on her appointment to succeed Mark Yudof as head of the 10-campus UC system.

What's the rush?

Yes, Napolitano is a widely known public figure. What isn't clear, unless you settle for the bromides offered by a selection committee that operated in private, is what makes this public figure the right person to lead the nation's most prestigious public university.

She's presently secretary of Homeland Security. Before joining the Obama administration in 2009, she served as U.S. attorney, attorney general and governor in Arizona.

In those jobs, she has demonstrated political savvy and administrative ability — important skills for the head of a university with 230,000 students, 190,000 staff members, five medical centers, three national laboratories and an annual budget of $24 billion.

However, she isn't a traditional choice, a point conceded in a statement issued by the committee that selected her. In some circles, the choice is downright controversial.

For one thing, past presidents have been renowned scholars with deep connections to the academic community, not career politicians.

Some students and activists are upset about the pace of deportations during her tenure at the Department of Homeland Security. Others are asking how she would address issues such as tuition shock and the cutbacks that are preventing many students from completing their degrees in a timely manner.

All of those matters deserve more than a perfunctory airing prior to a confirmation vote by the regents, fewer than half of whom served on the selection committee.

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