Last month, the University of California selected former Arizona governor and Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano to lead its ten-campus, $20 billion system. UC Regent Sherry Lansing, who directed a secretive selection process that drew criticism from the Sacramento Bee and others, told reporters, “Secretary Napolitano is without a doubt the right person at the right time to lead this incredible university.” Lansing may be right, but not in the way that she imagines.
President Obama picked Napolitano, a partisan Democrat, to run the Department of Homeland Security in 2009 because of her purported experience with border enforcement in Arizona. On her watch, the massive federal bureaucracy conformed to the administration’s line that acts of terrorism are “man-made disasters,” and that domestic right-wing extremists may pose a greater threat than militant Islamists. Acts of terrorism on U.S. soil continued on Napolitano’s watch, and her personnel record at DHS was spotty, too. She remains the defendant in lawsuits charging that she discriminated against male staffers and promoted women of lesser qualifications. The suits include extensive allegations of sexually offensive behavior by high-level female staff—charges that would ruin any man’s career. UC’s search team may have fast-tracked Napolitano’s nomination before the lawsuits blew up in court.
Of course, Napolitano’s apparent taste for gender preferences may have worked in her favor with the UC Regents. The university officially ended race- and sex-based preferences in 1996, and California’s voters that same year approved a constitutional amendment, Proposition 209, banning preferences in state hiring, education, and contracting. But that hasn’t stopped university officials from doing everything they can to restore the old affirmative-action regime in all but name. Politicians have also tried to thwart voters’ intentions. Constitutional Amendment 5, sponsored by state senator Ed Hernandez, a West Covina Democrat, would exempt state colleges and universities from Proposition 209’s mandates. Hernandez spokesmen claim the legislation would “ensure that universities reflect the diversity of the state,” and UC officials support the proposal for the same reason. By law, the UC system must open its doors to all students from the top 12.5 percent of the state’s high school graduating classes. University leaders reject this color-blind mandate; in their view, all groups should be represented at UC according to their percentage in the population, regardless of their academic achievement.
Statistical disparities among groups are the rule, not the exception, Thomas Sowell notes in his recent book, Intellectuals and Race. But according to diversity dogma, if the percentages are not politically correct, deliberate discrimination must be at work—and the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent. The only remedy for assumed discrimination is affirmative action, or government-imposed “diversity.”
The Los Angeles Times recently lamented the declining percentage of blacks and Latinos at UC Berkeley and UCLA. But the newspaper offered no statistics for, say, Armenians or Jews at those prestigious UC campuses, perhaps because journalists tend not to ask whether schools have “enough” or “too many” Jews and Armenians. Diversity dogma generally ignores discrimination against Asians, whom university “diversocrats” contend are “overrepresented.” Moreover, Sowell points out, the number of black and Latino students graduating from the UC system actually increased after the ban on racial preferences took effect—including a 55 percent jump in the number of blacks and Latinos graduating in four years with GPAs of 3.5 or higher. And after preferential policies were banned, the number of blacks and Latinos with degrees in science, technology, math, and engineering rose 51 percent; the number of doctorates earned by black and Latino students rose by 25 percent. Like Sowell, UCLA law professor Richard Sander has shown that preferences “mismatch” students and institutions, with the effect that less qualified students tend to drop out of more demanding campuses like Berkeley and UCLA. On the other hand, those students better-matched academically to other UC campuses graduate at a notably higher rate.
But the diversity regime appears impervious to such data, perhaps because it functions mostly as a jobs program for bureaucrats. As Heather Mac Donald notes, in 2012 the university faced $250 million in funding cuts on top of the $1 billion it had lost since 2007. Yet UC San Diego chose to hire its first “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion” at $250,000 per year plus generous benefits. A similar diversocrat at UC San Francisco made out even better, despite the utter redundancy of these positions within the UC bureaucracy. When it comes to diversity, the UC bureaucracy seemingly can never be big enough, whatever the cost to taxpayers and students.
Politicians favor the diversity regime because it encourages patronage while fostering the illusion that public officials somehow deserve credit for student advancement. Bureaucrats favor diversity because it gives them power and jobs, entrenching their positions in California’s ruling caste. So it makes sense that the new UC president is a politician and bureaucrat with no academic experience. If the University of California wants to bring back the glory days of state-sponsored race and gender discrimination, then Regent Lansing is correct: Janet Napolitano is the right person at the right time to head “this incredible university.”