UCOP Janet Napolitano interview: the full transcript

Courtesy of Taylor Sanderson/UCSD Guardian
Courtesy of Taylor Sanderson/UCSD Guardian

For a summary of this transcript, please visit here.

(A Round of Introductions)

Brooke Converse: As you know, today President Napolitano is celebrating her first year with us. So we’re talking about looking ahead and the things that we’ve accomplished in the last year.

UC Berkeley: You promised a tuition freeze for this year and it’s come through and now another hike is being considered for next year. State funds continue to fall short. What’s your plan to address this issue and what can you say to students regarding tuition?

Napolitano: We have frozen tuition for the third year in a row. The state allocation for the university is not what we would hope and that does put heavy pressure on the tuition dollar. Therefore, in November when the regents meet they’re going to have to look at a whole range of things. I can’t predict what they will say nor what do I want to predict what I’m going to propose to the regents. But I need to be up-front with you and say that given the state — you know if you look at the core budget of the university, there’s basically two parts to it: there’s the state appropriation and there’s tuition. Twenty years ago, state appropriation was here (raises hand high) but now it’s here (lowers hand drastically). The state is putting a little bit in but it’s by an eyedropper so we may have to look at a tuition increase again. It’s just the arithmetic. However, student aid remains robust. 55 percent of the graduates of University of California do not pay tuition. They got room and board … they still have to eat but they don’t pay tuition. Our student aid formulas are not expected to change.

UC Santa Cruz: The Latino population is California has been steadily increasing. This year is the first year the UC has admitted more Latino students than white students. So what potential obstacles might the university face and how is the university insure the graduation rates of the population?

Napolitano: Well we’re going to work very hard on that. You’re right, this is the first year that the number of Latino students not only accepted but enrolled in the University of California. I think that’s going to continue. As I read the demographics, that’s going to happen and I’m delighted. We want to do everything we can to get our students out in four years. If they can do it in four years. There are a lot of different circumstances. For example, if they switch majors or if they’re in a major that requires four-and-a-half years. Or what have you. We know that we graduate, I don’t know, 55 to 65 percent of our students in four years. and three-fourths of our students in five years. We want to look at the difference and say, okay what’s the difference between four and five years particularly for first generation students. For the students that graduate after six years, what can we do to bring that number down? So that the overall university average for the university is not four-and-a-half years.

UC San Diego: At UCSD in the past year, we’ve been experiencing overcrowding in our dorm rooms and in our classrooms. What is UCOP going to do to make the UCs more accessible?

Napolitano: Well each campus has its own capital plan like you know, parking structures, buildings and dorms are part of the capital plan for the university. I don’t know specifically what’s underway for UCSD. It must  be a pretty attractive campus because we have a lot of applicants. It does, undoubtedly have a capital plan that would be handled our under executive vice president.

UC Riverside: My question pertains to undocumented students. One of the first moves you made as UC president was to allocate $5 million dollars to fund resources for undocumented students. I was wondering what the end goal for that would be. Do you see the UC demographics shifting to include more undocumented students?

Napolitano: First of all there’s been a significant add-on to that and that is the student loan the DREAM loan bill that the governor just signed, I think yesterday. This was an idea that came out of the University of California and was secured by Senator Ricardo Lara. It creates a small revolving loan fund so that undocumented students can access student loans to the same levels as federal student loans. So it’s designed to even the playing field there. CSU and UC are going to participate in the fund. We will each put in, I think half a million, and the state is supposed to match it. As students pay back the loan, it gets paid into the same fund. That’s why it’s called revolving. And what I’m trying to do is a couple of things: to make sure that students have an equal experience. Secondly to support campus-based efforts designed for undocumented students. Third is to make the financial resources available to those students are equal to that which they would get if they could get federal funding. That’s what’s happening.

UCLA: You recommended the regent’s committee to have a policy in which the chancellors’ compensation should be adjusted if was unequal to that of the other chancellors despite controversy that their salaries has been going high.

Napolitano: Sorry there was kind of breaking up. Here’s the deal on that. There are 66 schools in the United States that equivalent to University of California standards and our chancellors — particularly some who have been with the university for a long time get paid on a mark-up scale. Not everybody can run one of these campuses. They’re complicated. You’re complicated! Students are complicated! The faculty is.Some of our campuses are running medicine schools, veterinary schools so these are big complicated institutions with billion dollar plus budgets. And we pay their managers as if they were middle managers at a tech firm. We pay them at the lowest of the AAU. Most of the chancellors that been with us have been under a salary freeze for years. They haven’t had any increase in salary. So last meeting, the regents raised the bottom four (in terms of what they were being compensated, not in terms of ranking) up. They’re not even at the midlevel of their competitors but at least you can see the midlevel over the horizons. And then they directed me to have a plan that would not put them at the top of the range, not at the middle of the top of the range, but at least get them somewhere in the middle for the 70-some universities that we compete with. That’s what we intend to do. We have great chancellors. They work all the time. I don’t know that I’ve ever worked with a greater group of people than our chancellors. We’re not treating them in a way that is competitive to what other campuses pay.

UC Santa Cruz’s follow-up question: Taking that into considerations, why at this particular moment, when there are so many financial needs, did you decide to do the pay raises?

Napolitano: There’s never a good time to do it. I think one of the reasons for the timing was that they were already looking to move the package for the new UC Irvine chancellor so what happened … here’s what happens: as new chancellors come in, they’re being paid much more at other institutions and we want to get the very best chancellors we can get. So we have to pay more. Most of our chancellors have actually taken a pay cut to be here. So you get that kind of disparity. So the notion is: you know what, we’re the University of California, we compete with the best.

UC Santa Barbara: What is your current position on fossil fuel divestment? Is your goal for carbon neutrality for 2025 still on the table? Is it still an option?

Napolitano: Here’s the way it’s going to work. We’ve now set up a framework that all of our investments are being reviewed through, the ESG network. ESG stands for Environmental, Sustainable, and I forget what the G stands for but it’s a set of factors in addition to purely economic factors to evaluate our investments. That is underway now. We have set aside a billion dollars to invest in climate change. None of this is your tuition money, by the way. We invest the fund that were deposited for the pensions for the faculty and staff and we have some endowment funds. This is not tuition or state-appropriated dollars. A lot of our investments are towards climate, sustainability technology and as we go through our invest portfolio, everything is being implemented through the ESG framework which does not preclude divestment. We reject the notion is really the only and best thing to do. It becomes a bumper sticker. It’s easy to rally around. I think we can be much more substantive than only divestment. So the ESG network preclude divestment as they go through it. But it is not a “Let’s divest from fossil fuel right now!” strategy.

UC San Francisco: As you are aware, UCSF is entirely without an undergraduate population. So my questions will be a little bit different. What does UCOP have in mind to help UCSF to advance its goal for medical research

Napolitano: Well, first of all, you can’t see me right now but I’m drinking my tea out of a UCSF mug and I was just there yesterday. But anyway, I think a lot of things. Number one: you can’t beat UCSF’s reputation in medical research. The new chancellor is very committed to basic research and the fact that is a key unique identifier for UCSF. We recognize the different values associated with basic research. One of the things I’m excited about is the opportunity to multi-campus research. We have research underway on brain mapping and areas of the brain. I think that’s really exciting, significant and important. I think we can use the power of the University of California and the fact that we have six four-year medical schools and five academic health centers and all the associated basic research. The opportunity not only to spread the gospel of basic research but to do everything we can to find the resources to support basic research and find the opportunity to unite the campus behind multi-campus projects … is very exciting for the future to come.

UC Irvine: What do you think can be done on campuses to mitigate the rash of insensitive cultural comments with the fraternities and in other places? There have been several incidents both on our campuses and in CSUs.

Napolitano: You know, I just met with the Greek leadership system at Berkeley yesterday actually and we had a great session to discuss the roles of fraternities and sororities on campuses. We have about 14 percent of our undergraduates are in the Greek system. And the fact that they can be a powerful force for good within the university community and I was impressed by their commitment to do so. Every campus has to take it upon themselves the responsibility for how we act and interact as a community. These campuses are really communities. We will do all we can from UCOP to support education efforts, to support training, to support cultural sensitivity awareness, in particular, but we cannot do this from Oakland. This really have to be grassroots from the students themselves. By the way, I think the student press can be very helpful. Just saying.

UC Davis: Was your political background helpful in improving the UC system in your first year?

Napolitano: I think my life experience has been helpful in the sense that running the university is managing and leading a complex institution. Lots of parts, lots of constituencies, lots of people who like you and lots who don’t. Lots of issues to work through and the ability to multitask and yet designed and built for big ambition and to persuade. To work with the campuses so that we’re working together. I think we made large steps forward in this regarding year one. What I’m going to focus on in year 2 is filling in. So as we announce the UC Mexico initiative or the global initiative or the efforts to reach carbon neutrality or the support for basic and applied research, to be able to come back at the end of year and be able to say “You know, we did these five or six things under these initiatives to implement and institutionalize them throughout the university. That we continue to work to support diversity. And I am particularly interested not only in students but in faculty. So support for things like the Presidential postdoctoral fellows program, support for the undocumented students, support for other things that I think merit our attention right away like support for veteran students. So I look forward to those activities. And I look forward to implementing some of the big policy changes that we’ve been building that are not top-down from Oakland but we have built and convened task forces throughout the universities to come together and help and say “Alright, for the University of California, this is the definition of consent.” Consent requires an over-obvious statement of consent which is a definitional change we made in late January which is now reflected in the “Yes means Yes” bill that Jerry Brown signed the other day. But now we have those task forces on sexual assault saying, “Well, we should have an individual task force on every campus.” I agree. Now my job is to find the resources to support having those on campus. I’m doing that. That we do better training on education and awareness. Yes. That we have better investigation by people who are trained to know what to look for. Yes. You know etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. You know, this next year I don’t see announcing so many new initiatives as I see implementing the ones that we’ve begun.

UC Santa Barbara: In this last year, you and the regents have tried to bring in a lot of private money to the university. Most notably, the UC Ventures. Why did you break with your predecessors by allowing direct investments into the university and what role do you see direct investments playing for the University of California in the future?

Napolitano: Yes, so we did two things: one is we got rid of the bar that prevented the university from exchanging equity for support so for example we have lots of arrangement where in exchange for providing lab space, we take licensing fees or royalties from any kind of company that emanates from the company. All I did was say, why not just take equity and assume risk? This way, you might actually do better, you might do as well and probably get the added push but it’s something that other universities now do and it seemed to me anachronistic that we had that bar. It was put on a long time ago. We live in a different era now.

UC Ventures. Here’s what it is and it’s not. Again, it’s not tuition dollars and it’s not state dollars. We manage for the university about ninety some odd billion dollars. Two-thirds of that is the pension funds for faculty and staff. There’s another chunk which is an endowment, which are gifts to the University. Right now, we have always invested in what is called invention capital funds. High risk investments where you hope you hit Google or … a few years ago, you know, I think Florida State hit Gatorade. You hope you hit a big one and it returns a ton of money to the university so we’ve always had a sliver there but what we’ve done is take that and called it UC Ventures and directed and focused it on a force that is emanating out of the UC ecosystem, at large. In a way, it’s showing investment confidence in ourselves. It will have an independent reward. It will be judged, in the end, by how well it works as an investment. And that’s what UC Ventures is. Now, we are responsible for these dollars. After all, we can’t just throw them out. But UC Ventures augments and supplements and complements basic research and everything we do on the research side, there are rules and policies about how we guard against conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment and maintain scientific integrity. A lot of the faculty were wanting these changes. We just need to make sure to give them those high academic standards and scientific standards.

UC Santa Cruz: Governor Brown signed a pilot program that allowed some community colleges to offer bachelor’s degree. Do you think this is a viable future? What do you say to this in light of the fact that UC tuitions now are higher than they have ever been?

Napolitano: Well I think there are a lot of ways of offering degrees. I think that what this is reflecting is there is more demand for higher education in California than there is supply. These are so called vocational bachelor’s degrees in a variety of areas. They’re held in California as a need and there are students who will want that over the years as those degrees get taken in and accredited, which takes a lot of effort, I think that will be great.

Where I think we need to work on the governor, quite frankly, is on why do you have a public research university? And what’s different about the University of California? And why it merits additional support within the systems. I think that the University of California plays a unique role here and we make a unique contribution to California and the California economy. Not only in terms of the graduates we produce but in terms of the research that we do. And the associated economic impact. I think there’s room for all and I’m glad to see that investment if there’s actually money to with it. That’s always the rut. Is there money to go with it? But I’m focused on what the state needs to with our university now and what the state needs to do is reinvest in the university.

UC Santa Cruz’s follow up question: So what was your reaction to the governor’s decision to veto for deferred maintenance?

Napolitano: Oh, the $50 million? I was disappointed. I’ll be honest with you. I thought it was like, you know the cartoon strip, Peanuts?  But I think it indicates that we have a larger conversation. I mean, that was a limited — it sounds like a lot of money but in the schemes of things, it was only for something relatively small. And it was only for things like deferred maintenance. Important but not, to me, the critical conversation which is: what does it really cost to educate a student at the University of California? And are we doing in the best possible way? And it’s not a cost that’s easy to calculate. It’s not like there’s a formula. But we do know that involves a lot of different things. What does it cost, what does it mean and what should the state be putting into the bucket? As I explained, it’s a bucket and the bucket basically has two parts: state appropriation and tuition. And when one’s down, it puts all the pressure on the other side. So, more to come on that. But I thought that rather than call him the day after the veto, I would keep my powder dry. I suspect he will be re-elected in a couple of weeks and there’ll be plenty of time for a conversation then.

UC San Diego: So last year, there were several protests by the graduate student TAs in regards to the salaries and their class sizes increasing. For us undergraduates, what does the future look like for when we are TAs ourselves?

Napolitano: I think one of the reasons I would like some more funding for the academic mission on the campuses is for exactly that sort of things. How do we improve the student faculty ratio, the TA’s class sizes. That actually goes into time to graduation and we talked about that. How more students need to be able to get out in four years. I actually think where TAs can be super helpful in my study … it seems like the first year is so important, particularly for first generation students, if they’re coming out of a family background where no one has had an education before in terms of getting used to what it takes to thrive at the University of California. Just things like time management, study skills, the confidence that you’re admitted and you can do do this work. Being in a small environment with the TA really focuses those efforts in the first year. Once students are through that first year, they’re pretty much on a pathway. Unless they’re changing majors or something. So that’s where TA’s can be very helpful. I would like to take all of that and shine a laser light on it. Here’s what happens: you can never have a tuition increase, according to the students. Well, what does that mean in terms of the quality of the education? We have to open up that discussion because to me, if there’s to be any kind of tuition increase, those dollars need to be used for those kinds of purposes. So go to grad school.

UC Riverside: So the UC system recently passed legislation regarding LGBT rights such as self-identification on student applications and gender neutral bathrooms. How do you see the UC system fitting in with LGBT rights in the future? Do you think the UC system is a leader in that?

Napolitano: I want us to be. I think we should be. Here’s the process, I’ve learned this over the last year. First, there’s a working group, then there’s a task force, then there’s a council. It’s like everything has a couple of phases. So first is President Yudof before me created a group on LGBT issues. It morphed into a task force. I met with the task force last spring. One of their recommendations was that they become a permanent body on the council of the president, which I accepted. They now have done that. They worked through the summer. The council has a variety of members. Some are faculty, some are staff, there are some people from the community. They came back with a number of recommendations. I’m gonna say — And there are students on all of them! I should have said that to begin with. They’re vocal, which is good and they’re not there just to sit. They’re there to give us information. These were two of the recommendations and there are some other ones that we’re going to be looking at as the year goes on but I will look to that council as a primary source of ideas on what we do as a university community to be a welcoming and safe space for all members of the LGBT community.

UCLA: In September’s regent meeting, there was a policy to approve pay raises for coaches and assistant coaches. Why did you do that and do you plan to kind of delegate the power to chancellors?

Napolitano: Yeah so what we did on that one was that it was postponed because we were also considering another change vis a vis the athletic contracts which was to incorporate academic performance goals into the contracts such as graduation rates, GPAs, things like that. That sounds like an easy thing to do but as it turns out that there are some federal laws and regulations that we also have to take into account. So what we decided to do with the regents was to hold off on who has the ability to make the contracts and bring that back along with their recommendations of what academic metrics to use in the contracts. So we have taken that back and I see it come back to regents in January.

UC Santa Barbara: I was wondering what you were doing to address the issue of mental health here in Isla Vista? What about mental health in general?

Napolitano: Well in fact, I just reviewing some materials I put together. We are looking into ways of providing mental health services to all of the UC campuses. And you know, in some areas, we just plain have a lack of providers. There aren’t enough psychiatrists and psychologists in the geographic area of the campuses. We’re looking into the role that telemedicine can play in this arena. We’ve been looking at an approach that brings in social workers as well as psychiatrist because most students need different levels of assistance. There’s a lot of variety over the school year, you can imagine during the exam season, there’s more of a difference. And so we are kind of looking at the University as a whole as to how we up our game. Mental health services are involved … with respect to Santa Barbara, we’re also working very closely with Chancellor Yang on Isla Vista and how do we make Isla Vista a safer place to live. Even though it’s not technically university property, I think we have to be realistic and say, “it’s associated with the university — reputationally and otherwise and we do have a lot of students and staff who live there.”

Brooke Converse: So I think we’re going to wrap it up. President Napolitano has a few other interviews and we’re going to let her voice rest for at least a few minutes. So I’m sorry for those of you who didn’t get to a second question. If you do have follow-ups, you can send them to anyone in media relations.

Napolitano: Wait, if I keep my answers short — it just seems fair to give everyone two questions. Everyone should get two. I’ll go fast if you go fast. Tell the people in the other room they can chill for a bit.

UC San Francisco: Earlier, you were saying that we should all go to grad school. It’s funny because much of the conversation across the country for grad schools is regarding the shortage of careers in academia. What advice would you give to graduate students who have already to grad school in approaching the next phase of our lives?

Napolitano: You didn’t se my facial expression when I said that but what meant when I said that is go to grad school if you want to go to grad school. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea. I meet with the graduate student leadership two times a year and one of the things they brought to me was the need to have counseling and career exposure or training if you don’t want to stay in academia but want to dip your toes in something else. I know from talking to many of the employers in the bay area that they’re looking for smart, creative young people but they would love them to have some basic skills in what I would call the business school side of things. If they’re in tech or something like coding, there’s some appreciation of that. I only use those as examples to say that we want to support the students who want to remain in academia. We have to look for ways to enlarge the aperture and support for graduate students who do want to stay in academia. But we are also looking to support students in the private sector.

UC Irvine: Returning to the issues of mental health and sexual assault, given the budget cuts, when is a realistic time frame we can expect to see realistic funding for these offices?

Napolitano: Well, sexual assault. We’re going to find the funding for that this year. We’re looking for it right now. Mental health will be a somewhat longer process because we are looking for a broader range of personnel and staff and it may require a fee increase to provide it. Or additional funding needed to provide that service. That does not prevent us forever from trying to better triage, stage and deliver the service that we pay for right now.

UC Davis: (does not answer)

Brooke Converse: Okay, that’s it.

Napolitano: Thank you all. I look forward to working with you this year. It’s hard to believe it’s already October.

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