SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Outgoing U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was confirmed on Thursday as president of the University of California despite an unruly protest by students from the prestigious 10-campus system that led to six arrests.
Several demonstrators were forcibly removed from a meeting room at the University of California at San Francisco before the Board of Regents voted to approve Napolitano as head of the sprawling UC system at a base salary of $570,000 per year.
The students, angry over Napolitano’s immigration policies as Homeland Security chief, shouted “undocumented is not a crime!” as they were handcuffed by campus police and led from the room, briefly halting the confirmation hearing.
Some two dozen people yelled “Shame! Shame! Shame!” during a public comment portion of the meeting and two of them tried to rush toward tables where board members sat before being restrained by police officers. Others gathered outside to protest against Napolitano’s approval of immigration issues and her lack of experience in education.
University of California spokeswoman Elizabeth Fernandez said six people were arrested during the meeting for unlawful assembly and disturbing the peace.
“I would say to those students, documented or undocumented, we welcome all students to the University of California,” Napolitano, 55, told a news conference after the vote. “We’re in the business of education and I will be an advocate for that.”
Napolitano also said she was taking a 10 percent pay cut from the salary earned by her predecessor, Mark Yudof, because “I’ve been in public service for over 20 years and you do this job for the passion of the work.”
The former two-term Democratic governor of Arizona becomes the first woman to lead the University of California in its 145-year history.
She assumes oversight of 10 campuses making up what has long been regarded one of the top U.S. public university systems but which has been battered by nearly two decades of boom-and-bust-funding, leading to tuition increases and classroom shortages.
The financial crunch has strained relations with faculty and staff who have been hit with furloughs and hiring freezes.
“We all feel extremely excited about this as she brings fresh eyes to the UC system,” Regent Sherry Lansing said before the vote. “She’s had a lifetime of public service ... I think education is actually in her DNA.”
The lone vote against Napolitano’s appointment was cast by student Regent Cinthia Flores.
Napolitano, a former two-term Arizona governor and Democrat, has been a lightning rod in the Obama administration for criticism by conservatives, who have accused her most recently of being soft on border control and immigration issues.
Latino leaders, meanwhile, have sharply criticized Napolitano for immigration sweeps that led to large-scale detention and deportations involving undocumented immigrants.
“Janet Napolitano isn’t qualified at all to be UC president, her background is in law and immigration enforcement. It worries me as an undocumented student to have a UC President who has put terror into my family,” said demonstrator Rosa Hernandez, a 21-year-old student at the University of California at Berkeley.
Napolitano has acknowledged she was not a typical candidate and said she would meet with faculty, students, politicians and others to learn about the system. She was credited with championing public education during her tenure as governor of Arizona.
Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Ken Wills