Napoli­tano flunks trust test at hear­ing

The Mercury News - - Opinion -

Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Pres­i­dent Janet Napoli­tano on Tues­day used a tried-and-true de­flec­tive strat­egy when grilled by leg­is­la­tors in Sacra­mento about a scathing au­dit of her of­fice and the bur­geon­ing furor sur­round­ing it.

The strat­egy goes like this: Mis­takes were made. We didn’t mean to. It looks bad in ret­ro­spect. We’re real sorry. Let’s move on.

Uh, not just yet. The al­le­ga­tions at play here de­serve much deeper ex­plo­ration.

As Re­pub­li­can As­sem­bly­man Dante Acosta put it, “Of­ten, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Here, I think we might have a mush­room cloud.”

Let’s be­gin not with the au­dit it­self, but with at­tempts by Napoli­tano’s of­fice to ob­struct it.

Au­di­tor Elaine Howle said that the UC Of­fice of the Pres­i­dent in­ter­fered with her work by reviewing sur­veys sent in­de­pen­dently to the UC’s 10 cam­pus lead­ers. Those sur­veys car­ried an ex­press warn­ing not to share them with any­one out­side the cam­pus. Yet they were shared with Napoli­tano’s of­fice and, af­ter re­view by that of­fice, changes were made that re­flected more pos­i­tively on UC’s op­er­a­tions.

“In my 17 years as state au­di­tor, we have never had a sit­u­a­tion like this,” Howle said Tues­day. That is a dev­as­tat­ing claim be­cause Howle has seen a thing or two in her days.

Napoli­tano claims that she didn’t try to ma­nip­u­late the cam­pus an­swers and that her of­fice only got in­volved when the cam­puses asked for help in­ter­pret­ing what she said were com­plex doc­u­ments.

How­ever, staff emails ob­tained by the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle seem to re­veal a much more heavy hand from the Of­fice of the Pres­i­dent.

Per­haps even more damn­ing was the au­dit’s dis­cov­ery of more than $175 million in pre­vi­ously undis­closed re­serves at a time when the Board of Re­gents plans to once again raise tu­ition and fees that are al­ready un­af­ford­able for most stu­dents.

Napoli­tano’s of­fice not only kept the re­serves hid­den from the pub­lic, but also from the re­gents.

On Tues­day, Napoli­tano main­tained that most of the money iden­ti­fied by Howle is ac­tu­ally com­mit­ted to pres­i­den­tial ini­tia­tives that di­rectly ben­e­fit the univer­sity’s ed­u­ca­tional and re­search mis­sions.

We have a name for that: pres­i­den­tial slush fund.

Then there is the ex­ces­sive spend­ing for top mem­bers of Napoli­tano’s staff. The au­dit re­vealed 10 ex­ec­u­tives in the of­fice re­ceived $3.7 million in fis­cal year 2014-15 — more than $700,000 above the com­bined salaries of their high­est paid state em­ployee coun­ter­parts.

Al­though the Leg­is­la­ture is not the gov­ern­ing body here, there is a bun­dle of tax­payer money at stake and law­mak­ers should in­ves­ti­gate fur­ther.

Mean­while, as we have al­ready said, it time to rein in spend­ing in Napoli­tano’s of­fice and open its op­er­a­tional prac­tices to sun­light. The re­gents should ask Napoli­tano di­rectly if she is up to that task. If not, they should re­place her.

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