And Bring Everyone’s Phone and Email Records With You, Janet

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

I hope she starts by requiring TSA searches of any member of the legislature who steps on one of her campuses.

The appointment of former Arizona Governor and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as the new president of the University of California system is high-risk. A politician from three highly suspect worlds — Arizona, the law enforcement world and the security state — will be greeted with suspicion inside and outside the university. If she makes some bad moves, she might not last long.

But that same unconventional background also offers hope for her appointment. Napolitano may be just tough and political enough to make some real progress for UC.

At the beginning of the search for a UC President, I wrote in this space that the system needed “A War President,” someone who knew how to wage political fights, get more money for the system, and make legislators and governors feel real pain when they crossed the system. I wrote: “It is well past time for someone who is less academic, less “responsible” – and way more hard-edged.”

And so now we have, if not a War President, a Homeland Security President.

There will be a lot of talk about her need to “transition” to academic life.

Janet, my advice is: don’t transition too much. You want people to see you, at least, in part, as a formidable federal agent. Be scary. If the NSA boys won’t let you bring the phone and email records back to California, well, don’t let anyone know that. Intimate that you know people’s secrets. Use the paranoia and conspiracy theories that will spring up around your appointment to your advantage – and the system’s advantage.

Your focus needs to be changing the reality that the UC has a very minority partner – the state government, which provides only a fraction of its resources – that has majority authority over the system.

You need to present the legislature with a stark choice. Either ramp up public resources – we’re talking about at least a tripling of support – so that a majority of the resources of the system come from the state. Or stop meddling in the system, and change governance structure to give the system and campuses the autonomy it requires.

If the folks in Sacramento won’t make this choice, and try to persist in the status quo, make them pay a price. Use the press to make war on Sacramento politicians who oppose you. Use politics and political money to target elected officials who won’t either help the UC financially or give it autonomy. Use the initiative process to grab a bigger slice of the budget pie for the system, and for Cal State. Heck,

Yes, it’s bad policy, but such an initiative would buy more budget protection in the short term – while hastening the collapse of the broken budget system, and thus accelerating the moment when the state must design a new budget system that actually make sense. An initiative to protect the UC is, in the alternative reality of California governance, a win-win.

And whatever you do, Janet, don’t exhale. You thought Al Qaeda was a relentless, fiercely ideological opponent?

Just wait until you meet your faculty.

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