This was absolutely devastating, but to understand how and why some background is needed. First, the LAT is virtually the paper of record for UC, and has often seemed almost to be the University’s mouthpiece. Second, with the nominee already publicly announced as President-designate and due to be present as such at the Regents’ meeting, any decision to have second thoughts would be a humiliation that would virtually force Napolitano to withdraw. The LAT’s call for a delay and more thought was an only lightly veiled message: don’t do it.
Why the widespread and determined opposition? Some of it was certainly to do with her positions on matters of public policy, but the critics didn’t agree among themselves on that score. Far more serious was the impression Napolitano had given of her limited intellectual capacity in one public gaffe after another. Take one typical instance: when the underwear bomber managed to board NWA flight 253 on December 25 2009, evading all the safeguards that had been put in place, he failed to blow up the plane only because of his own incompetence. Janet Napolitano said that this showed that “the system had worked.”
To say that this was a dumb remark is to understate. UC professors are proud people, and the citizens of the state take pride in their University too. It is humiliating for faculty and citizens alike to have UC headed by a person who has so frequently shown herself to be a dimwit.
By the time the nomination was voted on by the Regents many must secretly have wished that this would go away, but it was too late. The custom has always been that a subcommittee makes the choice, with the final vote of the full board not a choice but merely a ceremony. And so the President-designate is on hand for the vote, something not possible if it were anything but a rubber stamp. That does not mean that the procedure can’t be criticized. No less a person than the state Assembly’s speaker, John Perez, criticized the extreme secrecy of the search committee’s deliberations. He’s right: in the past, public feedback about names that were being considered was sometimes engineered in one way or another. One has to suspect that a few prime movers on the search committee knew that the only way to get someone with Napolitano’s baggage through was by fait accompli. They knew what public reaction would be and didn’t care.
Yesterday’s LAT had a front page essay that was still trying to sell the appointment to the public four days after it had been finalized, from which we can infer that UC knows it has a public relations disaster on its hands. The essay makes much of Napolitano’s administrative experience and involvement in decisions about education while Governor, but none of this gets to the real problem: what good is experience if it hasn’t resulted in better judgment and understanding of issues than that displayed in Napolitano’s idiotic public statements?