On Nov. 22, a select group of students and I had the opportunity of meeting Janet Napolitano. In retrospect, my biggest regret was sitting through a meeting that could possibly be interpreted as the student body legitimizing her appointment as UC President.
Most disappointing, though, was Janet Napolitano’s outright refusal to host a public forum for all students, choosing to instead meet discreetly with less than one percent of the UCSB student population. As students marched outside on Nov. 21 and 22 with the hopes of catching a glimpse of Janet Napolitano, it became more and more apparent that the voice of the students is not something she takes an interest in.
Our new UC President began with full control over the conversation and directed us to answer this question: “If you were the UC President and you were in my position, what issues would you prioritize?” This initially seemed like an ideal situation — a system controlled by the very people feeling the repercussions of massive tuition hikes and oppressive policies.
Yet as the meeting progressed, I became aware that Napolitano was giving no legitimacy to the students’ voices. Napolitano did not sympathize as students attempted to hold her accountable for her policies during her term as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, merely justifying her actions and policies instead of moving forward.
One student felt compelled to thank her for her “service” to this country — a privilege in itself. While she was building her reputation as Secretary of the DHS through her “service,” others who lived under her policies suffered the traumatic repercussions of countless deportations and unprecedented surveillance. While those who are privileged enough to live comfortably dared to thank Janet Napolitano for her “service,” other students bravely managed to come face-to-face with the human being that was responsible for the deportation of their own family members.
Hopes for a more affordable, accessible UC system under her leadership were completely shattered by the end of the meeting. Napolitano showcased her disregard for a tuition-free campus in accordance with the UC Master Plan, saying that hope for the “old model” was long gone.
The Master Plan, a very realistic and “tangible” action plan for the UC system, was drawn up in 1960. The idea of a free, accessible education for all Californians, regardless of race or class, became a force for change in society. However, this revolutionary plan for education — what should be the pinnacle of any democratic society — has been disregarded by UC Regents for decades and, as a result our university has turned into the privatized system we know all too well.
Indifference towards one of the most profound proposals for free and accessible education is only furthered by our Associated Students’ proposal to “re-envision” a Master Plan that would fix the failures of a broken system. What we have come to know is a UC system that has been increasingly privatized and is far from mirroring the demographics of the state. In fact, acceptance of various marginalized communities has stagnated or dropped at every UC campus in the past two decades.
Rather than receiving suggestions for a more accessible and equitable education system, Janet Napolitano’s interrogative demeanor pressured students to look for alternatives within their own pools of resources. This was particularly evident when asked about institutionalized retention centers and programs for struggling students of color. Her response, or lack thereof, led me to believe that this meeting was merely intended as a means to publicize her “accessibility” as the new UC President and to justify her crimes and policies of white supremacy under the Department of Homeland Security. Her failure to address the issues that students of color face with honesty is a reminder of her qualifications as a politician and not as an educator.
Another student brought up the negative effects of the increasing police presence on campus, an ironic remark, considering her extensive coordination with the police at that very meeting. Napolitano attributed the racial profiling and racism in the UCPD to the lack of “police training.” Yet she failed to mention that during her reign over the DHS, she led one of the most aggressive deportation efforts in the United States — a campaign that has made people across this country, and specifically on this campus, feel targeted and unsafe. Secure communities, the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign and the aggressive border checkpoints are direct examples of her policies that promoted racial profiling.
It was not only her domestic policies that she justified — Napolitano failed to recognize the coerced compliance in policies of imperialism, violence and colonization abroad, which brings to question her role as a leader in a system intended to be critical of systems she has built her reputation off of. The meeting ended with students expressing personal recollections of feeling physically unsafe on this campus, led by organizations such as Stand With Us and the Anti-Defamation League. Yet Janet Napolitano avoided the question (a common trend during the meeting), referencing instead her preference for “free speech” in these situations.
I left the meeting feeling further marginalized and angry, but mostly disappointed. Any preconceived notion of higher learning in the UC system was diminished. I came to this campus hoping to be educated on issues plaguing various communities in this country. Instead, I give legitimacy to government practices through Janet Napolitano, I invest in the military and prison industrial complex and I am entangled in two of the largest nuclear weapons facilities in the United States. We hope to leave college with a diploma and decolonized minds, but we sometimes forget the true privilege and responsibility of being a part of such a prestigious university. Janet Napolitano’s appointment is just another way in which the UC system has legitimized white supremacist, racist and imperialist policies. We can no longer be compliant with the institution that is meant to educate and decolonize, which is why the resignation of Janet Napolitano is the only right answer.
Kat A. is a fourth-year political science major.