SAN FRANCISCO — After being appointed the first female president of the University of California, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano admitted she might not have been the obvious choice.
But Napolitano said her leadership experience as a cabinet secretary and governor of Arizona had prepared her for leading the 10-campus university system with 240,000 students.
“Let me acknowledge that I am not a traditional candidate for this position,” the 55-year-old Napolitano told UC’s governing board. “I have not spent a career in academia. But that said, I have spent 20 years in public service advocating for it.”
University regents voted Thursday to approve her nomination, despite objections to her record on immigration.
Student regent Cinthia Flores was the only board member to cast a vote against Napolitano, echoing heated remarks from protesters inside and outside the meeting concerned about deportations and other elements of Napolitano’s policies as head of homeland security.
“I grew up in an immigrant household, in an immigrant community,” Flores told the regents. “I can tell you the fear is real.”
Napolitano defended her track record on immigration, saying she has been an advocate for the federal DREAM Act and immigration reform.
She is expected to start the new job in late September and will make a base salary of $570,000, about $20,000 less than her predecessor. Chairman of the board of regents Bruce Varner said Napolitano was offered the same compensation as Mark Yudof, but her representatives said she would take the lower salary. Napolitano did not directly address why she decided to take less pay.
“All I will say is I’ve been in public service for 20 years, and you do these jobs because of your passion for the work,” Napolitano said.
She will also get a one-time relocation fee of $142,500, an annual auto allowance of $8,916, and $28,500 annually in special senior management benefits, plus a standard retirement plan that would be vested after five years.
Her base salary as homeland security secretary is $199,700.
Supporters lauded Napolitano as a leader who has managed large, complex public agencies and said her political aptitude would help the financially embattled university system secure money from the state and donors.
“I think we have in front of us a remarkable person of character,” said California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who cast his vote for her.
Before the vote, dozens of protesters gathered outside the board meeting, waving signs and shouting speeches against Napolitano.
Six protesters were arrested inside the building after one jumped over a rope barrier and headed toward the regents, prompting more shouts and chants of “Education not deportation.” UC officials said the six people were cited and released.
Flores called on Napolitano to prioritize immigrant student issues, fund academic preparation programs and review the presidential appointment process.
The announcement on July 12 that Napolitano had been nominated for the position caught many university and Washington insiders by surprise.
Napolitano was the unanimous choice of a 10-member search committee that considered more than 300 people for the job.
Napolitano, who attended the private Santa Clara University in California as an undergraduate, has already announced her resignation from President Barack Obama’s cabinet.
In the week since she surfaced as the search committee’s choice, some faculty members have complained that she is more schooled in politics than higher education.
Several newspapers have taken issue with the secrecy surrounding Napolitano’s selection and the short time-frame between the announcement and Thursday’s vote.
Napolitano will succeed Yudof, 68, who in 2008 became the first president from outside California to lead the UC system in two decades. He had spent 11 years leading the public universities in Minnesota and Texas.
As UC president, Yudof was one of the nation’s most highly paid college administrators, earning an annual salary of $591,084 almost triple what Napolitano makes as Homeland Security secretary, plus car and housing allowances, retirement contributions and other benefits that brought his annual compensation at more than $925,000.
Napolitano will take over at a time of improving but still serious financial challenges for the university system, including rising costs for employee salaries and retirement benefits.
After several years of deep budget cuts, Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month signed a state budget that boosts funding for UC.
University regents on Wednesday scaled back plans for price increases on graduate programs.
The university had considered raising prices for professional degrees in 29 programs. Instead, regents approved increases for eight programs.
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