Essay by Janet Napolitano on her first year as president of University of California

To linger for too long on the vastness and complexity of the University of California is to risk a form of intellectual paralysis. With its 10 distinct campuses, each a major university in its own right, five medical centers, three national laboratories, and an agricultural and natural resources division with representatives in every corner of California; with its $24 billion budget, its more than 230,000 students, and its 190,000 employees — nuclear scientists, literature professors, doctors and nurses, staff members of all types (some union, some not), you name it — the University of California is one of the largest, most complicated organizations in the world.

One year ago, on September 30, 2013, I began my freshman year serving as the 20th president of the University of California. I’m not sure how much I have changed the university, but I would like to tell you how the university has changed me.

For starters, I no longer wear red. Once was enough for the Old Blues of Berkeley, as Cal alumni are called, and for the Bruins of Los Angeles, not to mention the Banana Slugs of Santa Cruz or the Anteaters of Irvine. Message received. Blue and gold will define my sartorial palette ever more.

I no longer chuckle over the fact that somewhere within our institution a committee on committees is plugging away, guided no doubt in part by our policy on policies. Some university traditions can seem archaic and almost comic to an outsider, especially one without a background in academia. But something I learned early on is that all traditions have their reasons, and it’s best to understand where and why they are rooted before presuming to challenge their purpose. Message received … but I’m still going to stand firm on the subcommittee on subcommittees.

To say one has been humbled is too often shorthand for having been caught. But I can truly say my most common experience has been being humbled at every turn.

I have been humbled by students.

My very first night on a campus as president of the University of California was at UC Merced — and I do mean “night.” Merced is our newest campus and does not yet have a lot of classroom space, so classes start early and run late, six days a week. This biology class started after 9 p.m. There were two dozen undergraduates, most of whom I was told were first-generation college students, peering into their microscopes, hours after the sun went down. Talk about a passion for learning.

This passion is infectious. These students don’t come to UC to mess around. They come to learn, and along the way, to be transformed. Thousands upon thousands of UC alumni were first-generation immigrants and the first in their families to attend college. Today, that tradition continues, as reflected in the unparalleled number of students we enroll who are low-income, hail from underrepresented minority groups, or are first-generation college students. But all, it must be said, are academically qualified. They earn their way in. 

I also have been humbled by professors, the research they do, and their dedication to students.

In the first few months of my time here in California, I made an effort to visit every campus and as many related UC outposts as possible. Along the way, I learned some of the key distinctions that exist on the academic side of public research universities. One is the distinction between basic research and applied research. The latter often makes for a better, neater story, but without chaotic, messy basic research, there would no life-saving or money-making applications.  Another distinction is that, as one professor told me, there is no toggle switch delineating research from teaching. It is not an either/or proposition. The blend of teaching and research is its own phenomenon. It’s the magic mix that leads both to creating new knowledge and to educating students, not just instructing them. And finally, I learned that beyond research, and beyond teaching, faculty members have a seat at the table of leadership. Shared governance is one of UC’s key values.

In this first year, I’ve learned that the president of the University of California needs a porous skin as much as, if not more than, a thick one. Much of what I learned was through osmosis, while sitting in on classes, participating in discussions, and attending all types of public performances. I sat in on a poetry class run by the California poet laureate at UC Riverside. I listened to presentations by researchers who are mapping the activity of the human brain at UC San Diego. I came face-to-face with a dolphin at the Long Marine Lab at UC Santa Cruz, and at UCLA, I dropped in — unannounced — at a student services center to hear the answers students get when they ask questions about, say, applying for financial aid. And yes, I took many a meeting. And then I took more meetings.

As I traveled throughout California, one thing I absorbed was just how much the mission of UC extends beyond the borders of our campuses, and out into the world. I knew that the reach of the university was long, but I did not understand that it was also deep — farm advisers in every county, counselors in hundreds of high schools, research exported around the globe.

Having said all that, my tenure as UC president so far has not been a ceaseless parade of epiphanies. I have led both a state (as governor of Arizona) and a large federal agency (as secretary of homeland security). I know well what you have to do to hit the ground running when you commence leadership of an institution. Dive into the budget. Listen and learn. Launch initiatives to galvanize efforts. Build your base of institutional knowledge.

On my first day at the university, I stated three things. First, I said that I faced a steep learning curve, and that my first job was to climb it. Consider it a project launched.

Second, I said that the University of California is a high-stakes proposition — not only for the state it serves, but also for the nation as a whole. To stand still is to fall behind. We are pushing forward on many, many fronts.

And third, I made a promise. I promised that I would get up every day and serve as the best advocate I could be for UC. I have held true to this statement, and what I know now is just how important this advocacy is. The fundamental responsibility of the president of the University of California is to make the connection between the institution and the people it serves — not just students, not just professors or staff members, but all of society.

I knew these things were true when I said them. I just didn’t know how true.

I can’t wait for my sophomore year to begin.


Janet Napolitano is president of the University of California.

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Janet Napolitano at UC Riverside.

California Governor Signs Bill on 'Affirmative' Consent

California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, on Sunday signed legislation that will require colleges in the state to use an "affirmative consent" standard in evaluating allegations of sexual assault, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The idea -- embraced by some individual colleges already -- requires both parties to explicitly consent to sexual acts. Simply not objecting will no longer constitute consent. The new law also requires other steps by colleges to better educate students about consent and sexual assault. Many women's advocates have praised the legislation, while some civil liberties advocates have expressed concern that the law shifts too much of the burden of proof in these cases to the accused.


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Calls to Override NCAA's New Governance

The Coalition of Intercollegiate Athletics -- an alliance of 63 faculty senates at Football Bowl Subdivision institutions -- is calling on the presidents and chancellors of Division I colleges and universities to request a vote to override the new governance structure approved by the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Board of Directors in August. The new structure granted a greater level of autonomy to the five wealthiest conferences, with the stated goal of allowing those colleges more freedom to address athlete issues like scholarship terms, medical coverage, and support for degree completion. 

"However, it has become clear in the month since the restructuring model was announced that for the vast majority of Big 5 schools -- those whose programs do not generate profits -- the costs of the new athlete benefits are likely beyond their means without resorting to cuts in precisely those sports that most clearly reflect the academic mission of the NCAA," the coalition wrote in a letter to Division I leaders, warning that colleges may have to eliminate Olympic and other non-revenue sports to accommodate the benefits for athletes playing in revenue sports. 

At least 75 Division I presidents have to agree to call for an override vote by Oct. 6 in order for one to take place. 

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Colgate Reaches Deal to End Sit-In

A student sit-in at Colgate University came to an end Friday after administrators released a detailed 21-point plan that the university called a "roadmap to the future." The demonstration, which grew to include at least 350 students and had just entered its fifth day, was meant to raise awareness about how minority students were treated by other students on the predominantly white campus and to convince the administration to do more to improve the climate and increase diversity. 

The plan says that Colgate will install security cameras on campus buses, where racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs have been directed at students; revise its hiring practices so that job postings encourage candidates to describe their strengths with "teaching diverse student populations and in promoting a diverse and inclusive" environment; and develop and carry out diversity training for admissions and financial aid staff. Though a key request from students, the university will not require faculty to go through diversity training, keeping the training voluntary but reworking sessions so that they are more structured and accessible to faculty. Colgate will also expand its bystander intervention programs -- designed to address sexual assault -- to include sessions about unconscious bias, communication across differences, and respect in the workplace. 

"Colgate must fulfill its promise of being an inclusive institution for students of all backgrounds," the Association of Critical Collegians, the student group that led the sit-in, said in a statement. "Our hope moving forward is that this new action plan will create lasting change in our campus community."

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Accreditor Gives Gordon College a Year to Justify Policy on 'Homosexual Practice'

Gordon College has a year to prove to a regional accrediting agency that its policies on gay people meet the accreditor's standards for non-discrimination, Boston Business Journal reported. Gordon's policies barring sex outside of heterosexual marriage have generated significant controversy in recent months, and the policies have drawn the attention of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges' Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, which considered the college at its meeting this month.

A joint statement by the accreditor and the college said that the commission found information presented by Gordon about its policy on "homosexual practice" to be "thorough and pertinent," and that the commission applauded Gordon's plan to engage in up to 18 months of study. The statement said Gordon would report back by next September to ensure that its "policies and processes are non-discriminatory and that it ensures its ability to foster an atmosphere that respects and supports people of diverse characteristics and backgrounds, consistent with the Commission’s Standards for Accreditation." (Note: This item has been updated from an earlier version to correct the focus of the accreditor's scrutiny.)


Audit: U. of North Texas Manipulated Payroll

A state audit has found that the University of North Texas consistently received more state funds than it should have by manipulating its payroll expenditures, The Dallas Morning News reported. The audit to be released today, which the newspaper obtained, recommends that the Legislature require the university to repay at least $75.6 million over a decade to reimburse the state for the excess funds it received by manipulating payroll expenditures in a state accounting system and paying some employees with state funds who should not have been paid that way.

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Faculty members at Alamo Colleges say they're not consulted on curricular decisions

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Less than a year after Alamo Colleges professors objected to their chancellor's plan to require a course in part on the '7 Habits,' they cite new concerns about shared governance, including a move to abolish program-based associate degrees.

Clemson U. Suspends All Fraternity Activity Following Student Death

The day after a sophomore fraternity member fell from a bridge to his death, officials at Clemson University suspended all social and new-member initiation activities at its 24 fraternities. The university did not specifically cite the student's death as the cause of the suspension, but said that the decision was made "in the wake of several recent reports of violations of the law or student conduct code." In a statement Tuesday, the university said that "matters of a criminal nature" had been turned over to law enforcement agencies and that Clemson's Office of Community and Ethical Standards was also investigating some violations.

“It is especially prudent to suspend fraternity activities given the tragic death of Tucker Hipps," Gail DiSabatino, vice president of student affairs at Clemson, said. "There has been a high number of reports of serious incidents involving fraternity activities, ranging from alcohol-related medical emergencies to sexual misconduct. These behaviors are unacceptable and mandate swift and effective action to protect students. There is no higher priority than the safety and welfare of our students.”

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Cooking Up Adjunct Activism

Adjuncts at Front Range Community College in Colorado are cooking up some activism – recipes and all – with their new project, “The Adjunct Cookbook.” The book contains “food bank-friendly concoctions” intended to shine a light on adjuncts’ working conditions and pay at the college’s four campuses and elsewhere. There’s a section on “'Nobucks’ Coffee Drinks,” for example, and other meal recipes calling for very low-cost ingredients, such as beef scraps and bruised tomatoes. Interspersed are facts about adjunct labor, how colleges spend their money, and names of places and programs where adjuncts can find food and other assistance locally.

“We hope that the book helps [adjuncts] realize they have not failed, but that the system has failed them,” said Caprice Lawless, president of the college’s American Association of University Professors chapter and an adjunct instructor of English who contributed to the book project, in news release. Authors are asking a $7.50 donation for the book, available here. They haven’t copyrighted, they say, because they want their counterparts on other campuses to be able to borrow the model. Andrew Dorsey, president of Front Range, said he hadn't seen the cookbook and therefore couldn't comment. But he said Front Range adjuncts earn from $735 to $1,119 per credit hour, based on experience and other factors, and deliver about 60 percent of instruction.

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New presidents or provosts: Chamberlain Cogswell Denver EWU Monmouth Marylhurst NW Missouri Shelton

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  • Rebecca Chopp, president of Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania, has been selected as chancellor of the University of Denver, in Colorado.
  • Mary Cullinan, president of Southern Oregon University, has been chosen as president of Eastern Washington University.


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