Napolitano’s rocky road

imgres-2The high-profile and surprising choice of former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to head the UC system has fueled criticism over the secret selection process, echoing debates around the country about how higher-education leaders are chosen.

Supporters of a more open method say that better decisions are made when three or four finalists for a university presidency or chancellorship are formally identified to the public, reports today’s Los Angeles Times.  “At that point, faculty and students could have a chance to meet them before a final selection.

“Some public universities in other states are required to do just that, but the UC and Cal State systems usually do not name more than one finalist and do not divulge the closed-door discussions that led to the nomination. Additionally, the final votes by the UC regents and Cal State trustees provide little information about the searches.

“Though widely praised, the selection of Napolitano in July also came as a shock to many outside a relatively small circle of UC regents and other officials. Some activists at California’s public campuses and elsewhere hope to change California’s higher-education hiring procedures.

“We want to see a transparent UC, where the people who are paid out of student tuition money are accountable,” said Caroline McKusick, a leader of UAW 2865, which represents teaching assistants and other student employees in UC. McKusick said that complaints about how Napolitano’s federal agency handled deportations of immigrants who crossed the border illegally should have been publicly aired before she was named as the sole nominee. However, UC regents, Cal State trustees and some experts in academic hiring insist that the best candidates — and certainly someone like Napolitano, who had a sensitive job — would be scared away if the searches are fully transparent. They say that state laws and university rules allow closed-door discussions of such hirings with good reason. And they insist that search committees include student, alumni and faculty representatives for a wide range of views.”

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