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But Can She Run a University?

July 12, 2013

After this morning’s announcement that Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano will become the next president of the University of California, we asked some Berkeley professors what they thought about an academic outsider and Washington insider being chosen for the position.

One of them, John Ellwood, Professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy, did email us back with his expanded thoughts on the issue.

First, he addressed her non-academic credentials.

“California state support for higher education has consistently declined over the past 20+ years.  (This has occurred in just about every state.) Therefore, maybe the problems facing the University are political rather than educational.  If this is the case why not hire someone with high political skills and leave the educational problems to the individual campuses (which are doing quite well, thank you).”

He then offered his views on why the head of a national security agency might be just the right person to run a state university system.

“If one were to identify a federal department as difficult to manage as a state university system it would be the Department of Homeland Security. The DHS was created by merging a large group of agencies and bureaus with very different histories, goals, competencies, standard operating procedures, etc.  Sounds like a university.  In fact in his study of college presidencies James March (of Stanford) developed a model of what he calls “organized anarchies.”  These are organizations with multiple goals, uncertain technologies, and floating participation. The model fits the university like a T.  But it also fits the Department of Homeland Security.  So if she was a good leader and manager of the DHS you could argue that she might be a very good leader of a major university.”

So, the real question is, how good a job did she do at Homeland Security?

Still waiting to hear back from others. We’ll keep you posted.

— Jessica Pena

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