Notable alumna talks to political science community
The Santa Clara
April 26, 2018
Janet Napolitano, Santa Clara alumna and current president of the University of California (UC) system, recently came to campus to discuss politics, education and reflect on the days when there was a pool in the Graham Residence Hall quad.
Students and faculty from the political science department, as well as other university faculty members, gathered in the De Saisset Museum auditorium Tuesday evening to listen to one of Santa Clara’s most distinguished alumni talk about life as a politician.
Napolitano was joined on stage by Dr. Greg Corning, associate professor and chair of the political science department, who moderated the discussion.
The talk was part of the Eric Hanson Alumni Speaker Series, a series established by the political science department in order to have alumni return to campus to share their knowledge and experiences with political science students.
As a student at Santa Clara, Napolitano worked hard and played hard, reminiscing on the “sorority” she and her friends created called Sigma Chow which was based on the “principle of fine eating.”
Although Napolitano has long since left the university, she has tried to carry its Jesuit values with her ever since.
After getting a Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude in political science in 1979 and becoming the university’s first female valedictorian, Napolitano went on to obtain a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law.
Soon after, she began her life in politics as U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona from 1993-1997, then Attorney General of Arizona from 1998-2003 and eventually Governor of Arizona from 2003-2009.
In 2009, she became the United States Secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama but stepped down 4 years later to take a position as President of the University of California, which she holds to this day.
During her time in the White House, she was an integral part of the creation of the DACA program, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“[President Obama] announced DACA from the rose garden and we implemented it 60 days later,” Napolitano said. “We didn’t know on the first day whether we’d have 500, 5,000 or 50,000 applicants. It turns out today that there are 700,000 young people in the US with DACA protection. President Trump has rescinded that program. I did what a lawyer does—I sued him.”
For Napolitano, suing Trump was a way of standing up for what she believes in and practicing all-inclusion, Jesuit values she learned from her time at Santa Clara.
In addition to being all-inclusive, Napolitano learned that compromise is oftentimes necessary for the greater good of the situation and is something she had to practice a lot during her time in politics.
“Government is hard because you have to envision where you want to go, you have to persuade, you have to bring people along, you have to form coalitions,” Napolitano said. “But you have to know how to compromise and how far you are willing to compromise in order to achieve a particular objective.”
While in office in Arizona, Napolitano wanted to implement all-day kindergarten for every child in the state. Rather than put efforts and resources into that, the legislature wanted to create more private prisons.
Although she didn’t think that private prisons were worthy of their time, Napolitano and the legislature were able to come to an agreement.
“We worked out a compromise where I got all-day kindergarten and for every public prison we built, we would contract out for a private prison,” Napolitano said. “That was a compromise but in my mind it helped to achieve a larger objective. Those are the kinds of things that experience helps you do well.”
Along with discussing her political experiences, Napolitano talked about her time as President of the UC school system and offered advice to Santa Clara’s political science students.
“The UC is a large organization,” Napolitano said. “The annual budget of UC is $34.5 billion. When I left Arizona, the state budget was about $10 billion. We are like a moderately large state with a large population of 18-year-olds.”
As a public institution, the UC schools are barred by “Prop 209” from taking race or ethnicity into account when admitting students. That, however doesn’t mean that they have to turn a blind eye in terms of preparation and outreach for prospective students.
During her time as President of UC, Napolitano helped create “Achieve UC,” a program that prepares underrepresented minorities to attend a UC school.
Through the program, the percentage of minorities in the UC system has increased rapidly over the past five years, and Napolitano expects that increase to continue.
In terms of advice she has for women who are thinking of running for office, Napolitano responded by saying, “Do it.”
And as for students who are unsure of what to do after graduating from Santa Clara, she offered important advice.
“The important thing is to be willing to take a chance, to be willing to explore and to realize that your first job is not going to be your last job,” Napolitano said. “It’s a start.”
When asked to reflect on her fondest memories from her time at Santa Clara, Napolitano made the students in the audience jealous by talking about the now-cemented-over pool that was once in the quad outside of Graham Residence Hall, as well as the club in the basement of Graham—Pipe Stage—that Steve Martin performed in when he was starting his comedy career.
The speaker series aims at reaching undergraduate political science students and Napolitano’s visit did just that.
Jules Xenakis, a sophomore majoring in political science, attended Tuesday’s talk.
“She has become my female role model,” Xenakis said. “I always second-guess myself and my abilities and what I’m capable of. Listening to her talk, and the fact that she has been through part of my same path, going to Santa Clara, solidified in my mind that anyone can do anything if you work hard and put your mind to it.”
Contact Kimi Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.