A Thief in the Night

napolitano
Illustrated by Sage Schubert Christian

UC President Janet Napolitano failed to include students in the conversation on carbon neutrality. This only serves as a reminder of her complete disregard for student voices.

UC President Janet Napolitano revealed two things during her visit to UCSD on Oct. 27: one, an unfailing dedication to climate issues and two, a complete disregard for student voices. Two days were set aside for Napolitano and Gov. Jerry Brown’s visit in which they met with the UC Climate Solutions group to discuss the UC Cool Campus Initiative and the promise of carbon neutrality. However, this summit may as well have been the Council of Elrond as far as students were concerned. No students were invited, and we were barely informed of this event despite the large stake and role that we have in issues of climate change. Napolitano did not even attempt to meet with student organizations during her visit to our campus, and then she left like a thief in the night.

This attitude is not unusual for this UC President. Just back in March, as half-naked students invaded a UC Regents meeting to denounce — loudly and proudly — the pending tuition hikes, Napolitano muttered to the regent sitting beside her: “Let’s go. We don’t have to listen to this crap.” Our concerns are “crap” to the leader of our university system, whose salary we pay and whose power we grant. However, she would never let us know how little we mean to her. She thought her microphone was off and that no one would hear. No; instead she puts on a face and listens only to what she wants to hear. At an earlier point of the same meeting, she dishonestly insisted, “[Students] want to be sure that their voices are being heard, and I want to commit to them that their voices are being heard.” If it looks like a two-face, and it sounds like a two-face, it’s probably Janet. 

The sad part is that Napolitano is not incompetent. She has spent much of her life managing larger and more complicated systems than the UC campuses. Before stepping into her current office as the president, she had already been both the governor of Arizona and the Secretary of Homeland Security. And before that, she proved her academic intelligence as the first female valedictorian of Santa Clara University. In other words, she’s not a rookie. Furthermore, the duties allocated to the UC president are not education-oriented; rather they merely deem her responsible for running the UC system as efficiently as possible, which she may or may not do. The point is that Napolitano has the ability and power to do great things for the University of California. But she doesn’t.

Why? Because she values her role as a politician more than her role as a leader, leading her to pay more attention to finances than her actual constituents — students. Moreover, she lacks an understanding of the concerns of students, many of whom have yet to even reach the legal drinking age. This is very unlike her former constituency in Arizona, where there will soon be as many people over the age of 60 as there are under 17. While she certainly is an expert on the elderly, as showcased in her 2005 Arizona brief, “Plan for an Aging Population,” Napolitano is not the right leader for our college campus, let alone 10 of them. She has never dealt with such a high concentration of angry, debt-ridden and stressed college students. Even her experience in the Department of Homeland Security was limited to mostly older white men. The DHS employee makeup is more than half white, two-thirds male and two-thirds 40 or older. In contrast, of the 238,000 UC students, Asian, white and Latino/Chicano ethnicities are almost equally represented, and 93 percent of the student body is under the age of 25. We are not a demographic she is used to, but rather than seeking to bridge ethnic and generational gaps she does not want to listen to our “crap.”

Look, it’s not that we think she wakes up each morning cackling and seeking new ways to harass students. We don’t think she’s evil, maniacal or vindictive. But as long as she continues to snub her constituency in favor of headline-grabbing initiatives, we will continue to strip half-naked and march against her superficial policies until she decides to invest emotionally in our struggles and financially in our needs. If we could afford tuition and govern ourselves, we would. However, this is not the case. Instead, the UC president is appointed to lead us. But Napolitano has done neither, and she has not indicated any genuine intention to do so. And that truly sucks. Because as much as Janet needs our support, we need hers.