University of California President Janet Napolitano announces decision to step down next year

University of California President Janet Napolitano announced today (Sept. 18) at the UC Board of Regents meeting that she will step down in August 2020 after seven years of leading California’s preeminent public university system.

UC President Janet Napolitano
UC President Janet Napolitano
Credit: Elena Zhukova/University of California

“My time at UC has been deeply gratifying and rewarding. I have been honored and inspired every day to serve this institution alongside incredibly dedicated, passionate people,” said Napolitano, the 20th president and first woman to lead the university. “The decision was tough — and this moment, bittersweet — but the time is right.”

Since taking the helm in September 2013, Napolitano has charted a strong, solid course for the world-class system of 10 campuses, five academic medical centers and three nationally affiliated labs. The impacts of her leadership have reverberated beyond UC and higher education: increasing enrollment and access for California students while stabilizing tuition, shaping issues of national importance such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and launching innovative initiatives that have established the university as a leader on climate change and Title IX, among other issues. From expanding access for community college transfers to raising the minimum wage at the university, addressing the student housing crisis to battling student hunger, the president’s agenda has underscored her commitment to access and affordability, while directly addressing the practical challenges that students at UC, and at colleges across the nation, face.

Since 2015, UC added more than 17,500 additional California students above planned enrollment, including large numbers of first-generation and transfer students. Stabilizing tuition has also been chief among the president’s priorities, with the 2019-20 academic year marking the seventh time in eight years that UC froze in-state undergraduate tuition despite rising costs across all campuses. Napolitano also lobbied state and federal lawmakers to expand student financial aid to include summer Cal Grants and year-round Pell Grants. Under UC’s program, 57 percent of in-state undergraduates have all tuition and fees covered by financial aid.

Napolitano has also championed social mobility. She expanded Achieve UC, an outreach program that helps California high school students from all backgrounds prepare for admission to the university; to date, the president has visited and spoken at more than 20 high schools in every California region from Redding to San Diego. With 41 percent of UC undergrads the first in their families to attend college, the university launched a systemwide initiative in 2018 to help UC’s first-generation students thrive by connecting them with first-gen faculty mentors. This effort, among others, drew first lady Michelle Obama to partner with the UC system for her 2019 College Signing Day celebration at UCLA, with 10,000 first-gen and underrepresented high school and community college students in attendance. Other markers of UC’s strong focus on social mobility abound: Four UC campuses each enroll more Pell students than the entire Ivy League combined, and within five years of graduating, a majority of UC’s low-income students earn more than their parents.

Under Napolitano’s leadership, UC became the first university in September 2017 to sue the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for its rescission of DACA, a program that protects from deportation young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. The resulting preliminary injunctions by the courts have enabled many of UC’s undocumented students, along with Dreamers across the nation, to renew their DACA status and live and work in the United States; since January 2018 more than 500,000 DACA recipients have extended their authorizations. Napolitano, who created DACA during her time as DHS secretary, has lent a trusted national voice to this critical issue, which goes before the U.S. Supreme Court in November.

Napolitano’s bold leadership of systemwide priorities and policies has also expanded the university’s influence in other arenas, including sustainability and Title IX. In November 2013, she announced the Carbon Neutrality Initiative, which commits UC to emitting net-zero greenhouse gases from its buildings and vehicle fleet by 2025, something no other major university system has done to battle climate change. UC has since expanded its sustainability goals, now aiming for 100 percent reliance on clean electricity supplies across its campuses and medical centers, also by 2025. In addition, UC spearheaded the formation of the University Climate Change Coalition, or UC3, a group of 21 North American research universities that help communities transition to a low-carbon future.

Napolitano has also taken a strong stance on the critical national issue of sexual violence and sexual harassment by directing major systemwide efforts that include issuing a comprehensive, systemwide policy in 2016, as well as adjudication frameworks for faculty, staff and students; establishing the first systemwide Title IX office to ensure coordination, consistency and timeliness in implementing university policy; speaking out against proposed federal policies that threaten to undermine the very procedures that ensure fairness and justice; and positioning the university to be a nationwide leader in this critical arena.

“We have new regents on UC’s governing board, a new governor in Sacramento, and a presidential election on the horizon. With many of my top priorities accomplished and the university on a strong path forward, I feel it’s the ideal time for a leadership transition — an infusion of new energy and fresh ideas at the university,” said Napolitano.

“I look forward to President Napolitano’s continued support of UC," said Board of Regents Chair John A. Pérez. “I look forward to working closely with President Napolitano throughout the rest of this academic year before she embarks on her next chapter. The Board of Regents and I will provide the UC community and the state of California a transparent and thoughtful process to find the next president of the University of California.”

After she steps down on August 1, 2020, Napolitano plans to take time off before teaching at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley where she is currently a tenured professor.

Napolitano’s time at UC is part of her distinguished, decades-long career in public service, following her roles as secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013, two-term governor of Arizona from 2003 to 2009, and attorney general of Arizona from 1998 to 2003.

The Board of Regents will soon appoint a committee to start a national search for the next president of the university. Per policy, the search committee will include student, faculty and alumni representatives who will seek and incorporate input from the UC community and the public at large.

See more of President Napolitano's accomplishments as leader of the UC system here.