The outgoing secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, may be a brilliant choice to serve as the new president of the University of California. But how can we tell? And how, for that matter, can the Board of Regents tell?
Half of the regents haven't even had a chance to talk to her about how she would approach the job — a job that involves 10 campuses, 170,000 faculty and staff members and more than 220,000 students. That's why they should delay their Thursday vote on her appointment — which comes less than a week after the selection was announced — and instead engage in a more public and transparent hiring process that will assure Californians that this unorthodox decision is the right one.
It has become more common in recent years for colleges to pick leaders with nonacademic backgrounds. About one-fifth of the nation's current college presidents were not selected from the ranks of academic administrators or professors. Such leaders sometimes bring fresh perspectives to outmoded ways of thinking. But even among unconventional candidates, Napolitano is especially unconventional. Usually, when outsiders are hired, they come from the business world as colleges seek to shore up their finances.