The University in Ruin: How Janet Napolitano’s Appointment Signals the Death of the University as We Know It
By Hira Mahmood
According to reports, U.S. secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will resign her cabinet position and will now become the next president of the University of California. Napolitano will replace Mark Yudof who has held the position since 2008, and will assume leadership at the start of the fall semester.
Napolitano was appointed head of Homeland Security since the start of the Obama administration. She was also the Governor of Arizona from 2003 - 2009 and served as the state Attorney General of Arizona from 1999 - 2002.
The unusual announcement of Napolitano’s shift from an executive cabinet position to head of the the once admirable, now crumbling, UC school system came from the UC Regents after a “'secretive process” of deliberating Napolitano’s cabinet experiences. UC officials believe that her background as an overseer of “anti-terrorism measures” will “help UC administer its federal energy and nuclear weapons labs and aid its federally funded research in medicine and other areas.”
The nuances of Napolitano’s swift appointment from a high profile cabinet official to a leadership role in a lucrative educational institution such as UC is too great to ignore. After the 2008 economic crisis, public higher education suffered huge blows across the country. But the impact particularly devastated public higher education in California. The once-shining example of a public higher education system with the academic rigor and resources of a private institution continues to evaporate.
Mirroring the actions of his fellow state officials in California, President Mark Yudof made one position perfectly clear - everything is subordinate to the budget. The announcement of a 32% tuition increase at UC in 2009 kicked off waves of resistance in the form of occupations, blockades, walk-outs, and property destruction, stretching well into the Occupy Movement launching in 2011. As students, workers, faculty, and staff mobilized against the California legislature and the UC Regents, critical discussions on accessibility, the suffocating middle class (a category we should now recognize as a misnomer), and the emergence of a differentiated education system shook the California academy with pupils heading the struggle.
If the money isn’t being spent on schools, where is it going? Obviously the narrative of there not being “enough money” is a false — the money is there, except now expansive corrections facilities are the priority for California.The correlation is unquestionable thanks to the Public Policy Institute of California releasing this grim study — UC and CSU enrollment rates dropped by 20% as a direct result of the California legislature approving billions of dollars in prison construction projects. As the prison population increased 1% in 2010, student enrollment drastically fell. Following the mantra of ‘if you build it, they will come’, we can fully expect an already burgeoning prison population quickly filling up the cells - those cells being filled by policies Napolitano is spearheading.
Let’s consider Napolitano’s history as a cabinet member under the Obama administration. At the start of Obama’s campaign in 2008, he touted to his supporters and would-be voters that immigration reform would be a “top priority.” Hispanics voted for Obama over contender John McCain by more than two-to-one, and well into 2013 not only have we failed to see Obama push for swift immigration reform, we’re witnessing his moral veneer strike yet again. Napolitano has deported a record number of immigrants under her term with Obama, many for nonviolent crimes such as driving violations. 204,810 parents have been deported from 2010 to 2012, leaving their children to fend for themselves.
After Yudof decimated the UC system and is now passing on leadership to Napolitano, what can we possibly expect? Obama and Napolitano’s guiltless record breaking deportation raids and failure to sign comprehensive immigration reform into law should not come as a surprise, nor should Napolitano’s appointment. In our current political climate, shuffling around political figureheads from one governmental body to another expected at best and dangerous at worst. In this case, we should expect Napolitano’s leadership as highly threatening and purely strategic coming from the legislature, the Regents, and the other insidious politicians in Washington, DC.
The huge strides made in the immigrant youth struggle here in the U.S. unquestionably go to the numbers of undocumented people infiltrating detention centers, holding sit-ins, and organizing underground schools for undocumented students. Though no count for undocumented peoples in the U.S. is directly accurate, estimations determine that nearly a quarter of the nation’s undocumented immigrants reside in California.
Students and non-students alike fighting against budget cuts suffered brutal police violence that stunned the globe — let’s not forget the Officer Pike pepper spraying incident that produced countless memes. I guess this is what the UC Regents meant when they referred to Napolitano’s experience in “anti-terrorism measures?”
We are witnessing the crumbling of the university as we know it: The undoing of campus life, the money poured into building lavish dorms and recreation centers while simultaneously cutting humanities programs, the increased police presence on campuses, the online courses wiping out the unique perspective offered in a classroom. We are witnessing the university in peril, and Napolitano’s appointment to the new UC position is where the contradiction of the university is the most pronounced.
Now that Janet Napolitano is overseeing the site of the most advanced student struggle and immigration struggle that the U.S. has seen in the past decade, let’s take this time to mobilize and expect the worst. Her appointment is a threat to the last tolerable threads of student life and grassroots organizing existing in UC system. Everyone in the UC schools have been angry for a long time and it is easy to feel powerless. As we see the university cannibalize itself, let’s consider the most important function of the university - to be a space to foster and create collective political participation, to consistently and uncompromisingly reevaluate our privileges and our oppression, and to help one another move. This important function of the university is something that Yudof, Napolitano, the UCPD, Wall Street, and the many other faces of the crisis cannot erase. Let’s embrace that and use the most powerful, subversive quality of the university against them.
Follow Hira on Twitter @HiraMahmood5.