U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary and former Governor of Arizona Janet Napolitano was recently nominated to serve as the 20th president of the University of California.

If approved by the UC Board of Regents at this Thursday’s Regents meeting at UC San Francisco, Napolitano will succeed former UC President Mark Yudof, who stepped down earlier this year after a four-year run as president. If appointed, Napolitano would be the first woman to head the University in its 145-year history.

As Secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano deals with issues such as counterterrorism, immigration enforcement, cyber security and disaster preparedness. Prior to her work in the Cabinet, Napolitano completed two terms as the governor of Arizona, serving from 2003-09. She was also named one of the top five best governors nationwide by Time magazine and as one of the top 10 most powerful women in the world by Forbes magazine.

As the seasoned politician lacks a background in the field of education, she is an unconventional choice, according to Sadia Saifuddin, UC student regent nominee for the 2014-15 school year.

However, Saifuddin also said Napolitano’s experience in the federal government and willingness to work directly with students has prepared her to act as a more equipped advocate than past leaders.

“She has expressed interest in traveling to each UC campus to meet with students and administrators, which is different from President Yudof’s approach to leadership,” Saifuddin said in an email.

According to Saifuddin, Napolitano’s desire to acclimate herself to the new environment of academia will be readily facilitated by the student regents.

“I think she will be open to learning about higher education in California and working with students,” Saifuddin said. “She will have a challenging time transitioning in between roles, but myself and Cinthia Flores, the [current] student regent, will be working closely with her.”

The special meeting to appoint a president of the University of California is the last item on the Regents’ three-day meeting at UC San Francisco.

During yesterday’s meeting, Regents discussed the correction of construction defects of apartments at UC Santa Cruz and approved the budget and external financings for its repairs. There was also discussion regarding updates to the UC San Diego Health System Strategic Plan.

At today’s meeting, the Regents will officially appoint student regent nominee Saifuddin, a fourth-year social welfare major at UC Berkeley who will serve as the 40th student regent since the position’s establishment. Saifuddin will also be the second undergraduate regent in the last decade.

The Regents will also have a preliminary discussion of the 2014-15 UC Budget and will discuss an update on the 2013-14 UC Budget, as well as the 2013-14 budget for the Office of the President.

Thursday’s meeting will also feature a progress report on online education efforts at the UC, including endeavors to develop and offer for-credit online courses through the UC Online Education program.

“A lot of people feel that the University of California has catching up to do on online education,” UCOP spokesman Steve Montiel said. “A lot of faculty, faculty leadership and administrators at UC Office of the President believe that there are many ways that technology can enhance learning.”

In regard to dissent expressed toward online education by several students, such as 2012-13 Student Regent Jonathan Stein, who has argued that online courses cannot provide students with the quality education offered in a traditional school setting, Montiel said the progression of online education has and will continue to exist.

“There are a lot of different opinions about online but … there’s no doubt it’s going to happen,” Montiel said. “We just want to make sure that anything that happens online has the same level of quality.”

Janet Napolitano


A version of this article appeared on page 3 of the July 17th, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.