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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Janet Napolitano visits UC Davis, addresses UC issues


UC President toured School of Veterinary Medicine before sitting down with The Aggie

A few individuals and their dogs, waiting in the lobby of the UC Davis Small Animal Clinic on a Thursday morning, were visibly surprised to see a group of formally dressed officials walk through the door. UC President Janet Napolitano was at the forefront of the group, full of smiles and laughs as she toured UC Davis’ veterinary medicine buildings, where eager veterinary students and staff members seemed to be positioned around every corner to greet her.

The former secretary of Homeland Security visited the UC Davis campus on April 5, just one day after protesters shut down a busy intersection in Westwood near UCLA and marched at UC Berkeley regarding a recently published study commissioned by AFSCME — a union representing over 24,000 UC employees — which revealed “growing income, racial & gender disparities” throughout the UC.

During her visit to UC Davis, Napolitano met with a group of graduate students before her tour through the Veterinary Medicine facilities. The tour was led by Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine Michael Lairmore, who gave a brief presentation and overview of the school and its current research, technology being used and future construction and fundraising plans.

“We have a very simple mission, which is a one health approach,” Lairmore said. “It’s really that interface of animals, people and the environment. We expect to lead veterinary medicine, which is what we are doing, but the important part that separates us out and definitely makes us unique is we address societal needs.”

Lairmore talked about the current work of recent UC Davis graduates, including an alumnus currently working for the Department of Homeland Security — “which I’m familiar with,” Napolitano replied. He also mentioned the work of former students who were at the frontlines of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone and who Napolitano briefly met with later in the tour.

Napolitano walked through multiple buildings with a group of faculty, university officials and at least one veterinary student, speaking very briefly with other faculty and staff along the way. Later in the tour, Napolitano visited the Equine Athletic Performance Laboratory and watched a horse on a treadmill gradually increase its speed from a run to a full-speed gallop over the course of six minutes. Associate Professor of Molecular Biosciences Heather Knych explained that the act is “part of our exercise research.”

The hour-long tour ended for a luncheon attended by UC Davis Chancellor Gary May. Before she ate, Napolitano answered questions from The California Aggie for approximately five minutes, the full transcript of which follows:


The California Aggie: First and foremost, I want to address the protests which occurred yesterday in Westwood and on the Berkeley campus following the study commissioned by AFSCME which revealed growing income, racial and gender disparities in the UC. How does the UC plan to address these disparities moving forward?


Napolitano: Obviously, we’re going to make sure our workforce is well paid and it’s inclusive and it’s equitable. We’re in contract negotiations with AFSCME now, so some of these issues will be addressed at the bargaining table.


TCA: In light of the four-year, $18 million UC-wide mental health initiative that began in 2016 and will end in 2020, each UC campus was supposed to hire a specific number of counselors — at UC Davis, it was 12. Since that time, we’ve had a net gain of a half full-time employee. What is your response to student concerns that student fees are not being spent to increase the availability of mental health resources?


Napolitano: Like you said, we distributed the funds to the campuses. We provided that half of the increase in student fees would be dedicated to mental health. Unfortunately, a lot of our campuses have good intentions, but the availability of the workforce makes it difficult. We’ll keep at it, we’ll keep trying to improve it.


TCA: I understand part of the funds amassed through the tuition hike — or hikes, if the in-state hike is approved in May — will be allocated toward mental health resources. Is this correct?


Napolitano: The tuition hike is related to the core operations of the campus and primarily the undergraduate educational experience. The increase in the student fee, half of that increase will go toward improvement.


TCA: I wanted to address your announcement recently that public universities should guarantee admission to qualified California community college students. Why do you feel this should be a focus of the UC?

Napolitano: I think it’s a function of the master plan of higher ed in California […] — the idea in the master plan is that students could start at community college, do two years there and transfer. We already accept a large percentage of our transfer applications. This just puts the period at the end of the sentence and makes sure that qualified community college transfers — these will be students who have done one of the pathways, and they have to get a certain GPA which will be set by the UC faculty — will be guaranteed a seat somewhere in the UC system.


TCA: Recently, Chancellor May announced that the UC Davis police department has made de-escalation a priority. Do you think it should be a commitment of the UC that UC police departments should be focused on de-escalation or at least police reform?


Napolitano: Yes, in fact I have formed a president’s working group on policing practices throughout the UC. It’s chaired by Alex Bustamante, who is our chief audit and compliance officer, but he was former the inspector general of the LAPD, so he’s had a lot of experience in this area. We have student representation, we have administrative representation […and] some of the police chiefs are on it as well as some of the police officers themselves. I’ve asked them for recommendations on how university policing is conducted, what are the best practices and I’ll have those recommendations by the end of the calendar year.



Written by: Hannah Holzer — campus@theaggie.org


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