EDITORIAL: UC insults public with process of picking leader

The University of California Board of Regents did not have a good week demonstrating it is attuned to concerns over transparency and taxpayer accountability.

Just six days after announcing her nomination, the regents hired Janet Napolitano, the U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, to be the next UC president. Just minutes before approving her and with no opportunity for the public and university community to weigh in, the regents announced her base annual salary – $570,000 – a vast sum more than the $199,700 she earned yearly protecting the United States from terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

While $570,000 is slightly less than what outgoing UC President Mark Yudof has earned, it perpetuates the administrative salary bloat that UC faculty, taxpayer groups and this editorial page have criticized for years. UC was once an institution of relatively even salaries between faculty and administrators, partly because the latter were nearly always drawn from the faculty, with plans to return to teaching after finishing their administrative terms.

That has all changed, with UC administrators being treated like corporate CEOs and receiving salaries and benefits out of sync with every other form of public service. That bloat undermines their ability to work with faculty and lower-paid staff, and it undermines their credibility when they go to the Legislature to seek increased financial support for UC and its mission.

Undoubtedly, the regents designed a compressed schedule around Napolitano's selection to avoid scrutiny over her qualifications and salary. Yet that expeditious route was an insult to both the public and Napolitano.

Had they set aside more time for her to meet with the university community, Napolitano could have addressed criticisms about her lack of an academic background, and laid out her priorities for the job. She also could have answered questions about the deportations of a record number of undocumented immigrants during her tenure as homeland security secretary. That might have headed off the protests that disrupted the regents' meeting Thursday.

Napolitano says that the most important thing she wants to bring to California is her ears. She pledges to spend time with all of UC's stakeholders before planning an agenda for California's world-renowned institution of higher learning. She may well turn out to be an exceptional administrator, and she seems to be sincere in promising to be a good listener.

But it's unfortunate the regents didn't make a similar vow before conducting their less-than-transparent selection process that led to Napolitano's selection. The public deserves better than what the regents delivered this week.