San Francisco Chronicle
Emails counter assertion on audit
Notes contradict UC chief ’s remarks on secret surveys
The office of University of California President Janet Napolitano directed administrators at UC campuses to reveal their confidential responses to a state auditor’s survey, according to emails obtained Wednesday by The Chronicle that contradict Napolitano’s testimony to state lawmakers about why her office interfered with an inspection.
Napolitano testified Tuesday that her staff reviewed responses only after campuses asked for help in understanding complicated survey questions from state Auditor Elaine Howle as part of her audit of the UC president’s office.
But numerous emails from the president’s staff to all 10 campuses, and emails from several campuses to the staff include none that show campuses asking for help. Instead, they show campus officials arranging to show their re-
sponses to Napolitano’s staff “as requested.” They show her staff “checking in” with campuses to see when they could see their responses. And they show campus officials apologizing in cases where they sent their responses to the auditor before showing them to Napolitano’s staff. In one such case, UC Santa Cruz, pulled its responses back from the auditor — apparently at Napolitano’s request.
“Per your conversation with (campus) Chancellor earlier today, we have already started the recall process of the State Audit Survey,” Ashish Sahni, a UC Santa Cruz associate chancellor, told Napolitano in a November email copied to the president’s top staff members and to campus Chancellor George Blumenthal. Sahni declined to comment. In another November email, UC Irvine’s Associate Chancellor Michael Arias sends the smaller of two survey responses to Napolitano’s deputy chief of staff, Bernie Jones.
“Hopefully it is OK, because (a colleague) sent it to Sacramento already,” Arias writes. “I apologize again, but I somehow thought you folks were only concerned with the larger survey.”
Napolitano told lawmakers Tuesday that she was sorry for her office’s handling of the survey responses. She said it happened when “some on the campuses reached out to (her office) with questions and a request for help with coordinating the responses.”
She also emphasized several times that she “wasn’t involved in the day-to-day, back and forth of the surveys.”
The auditor’s two-part survey, which records show was marked confidential, was sent to campuses to uncover any costly duplication of work between them and the president’s office. The audit was ordered by lawmakers concerned about increased spending by the office and found, among other problems, that Napolitano’s office kept $175 million in secret funds and that its accounting practices were a mess.
But the auditor threw out the campus responses because the president’s office had not only seen them before they were given to the auditor, but had caused several of the answers to be changed — many of them to reflect a more positive view of UC leadership, Howle said.
State lawmakers on three budget and higher education committees held a joint hearing this week to learn more about Howle’s scathing audit of Napolitano’s office and its $686 million annual budget.
Several lawmakers expressed dismay at what they called tampering by the president’s staff in the confidential survey process. Some said it reduced their confidence in UC, and others asked if it rose to a criminal level — to which Howle replied that she didn’t know because she wasn’t an attorney. But in her 17 years as auditor, she said, she hadn’t seen “interference” of this kind.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Napolitano said the president’s testimony was accurate.
The president’s office learned of the surveys “when several campus directors called and asked for help,” said the spokeswoman, Dianne Klein. “The task was a bit overwhelming, and the campuses wanted some guidance.”
Asked to comment Wednesday on the apparent discrepancy between Napolitano’s testimony and the emails, Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-San Ramon, vice chair of the higher education committee, reiterated her call for a subpoena of UC records.
“This discrepancy in the testimony and the characterization of the Office of the President’s involvement in the surveys is precisely why the Legislature should issue legally binding subpoenas, for all of the documents and communications related to responses to the campus surveys,” she said. “We need to get to the bottom of this.”
Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, the budget committee chair who called for the audit with Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, said it is now up to the regents to take action.
“They have to take it very seriously and review all the facts,” Ting said. “The fact that the president already tampered with a state audit is very serious.”
Monica Lozano, chairwoman of the UC regents, told lawmakers Tuesday that the board will look into the alleged tampering.
At the same time, she said, “we have confidence in (the president’s) leadership.”