The UC regents are still deliberating on appropriate repercussions and institutional changes after an investigative report commissioned in May found UC President Janet Napolitano and the UC Office of the President (UCOP) intentionally interfered with last April’s state audit. Napolitano and other UC officials are facing calls for repercussions, enhanced oversight and even resignation.
“My response is to appreciate the expression by the Board of Regents, to continue leadership and to stay focused on what we are trying to do,” Napolitano said to Bay Area news station KPIX. “We have a tough road ahead of us on the education side […] And I am staying on it.”
The independent report, conducted by the Hueston Hennigan LLP law firm and former California Chief Associate Justice Carlos Moreno cost $210,000 and determined Napolitano’s chief of staff Seth Grossman and deputy chief of staff Bernie Jones prescreened each of the 10 campuses’ responses to mitigate criticism of UCOP initiatives.
UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal, as well the chancellor from UC San Diego, directed changes in the campuses’ audit responses at the request of UCOP. At UCSC, negative references to the university’s UC SHIP insurance program and the UC’s online payroll system were removed and replaced with more positive reviews.
“I take full responsibility for our campus submissions, and I regret the impacts my actions had on the audit process,” Blumenthal said in a statement to audit investigators.
Over the eight months prior to the release of the investigative report, Blumenthal avoided commenting on his role in the audit interference. His office declined to offer any further statement other than what he reported to investigators, but Blumenthal briefly justified his actions in an October interview with City on a Hill Press.
“As the chancellor, I do have certain authority over campus responses to things,” Blumenthal said.
When Napolitano was asked about future repercussions for Blumenthal by reporters in a public event at Cabrillo College on Nov. 20, she offered limited answers.
“I have spoken with Chancellor Blumenthal several times, but not directly about the report,” Napolitano said. “At some point, we will talk about it.”
In response to the audit results, the UC regents held a five-hour closed meeting session on Nov. 16 to determine the disciplinary actions and future changes in audit processes. UCOP staff members Bernie Jones and Seth Grossman both resigned from the university one week before the investigative report was released, citing “family concerns.”
UCOP spokesperson Dianne Klein publicly stated both employees left for new jobs but that the UC can’t confirm if their resignations were tied to the audit.
“It wasn’t as though it was directly linked [to the audit interference],” Klein said in a public statement. “I’m certainly not going to make any inferences.”
Both the state and independent auditors concluded Grossman and Jones reviewed answers from each college and requested campus officials change any answers that cast a negative perception of UCOP. While the investigation found Napolitano ultimately responsible for interference in the audit and that she did request review of campus surveys, there was insufficient evidence to suggest she directed anyone to edit responses.
The UC regents considered other repercussions for Grossman and Jones, but because both administrators left before the audit was finalized the UC was only able to withhold their severance packages and any residual UC benefits they could have been eligible for.
While the majority of the board voted to reprimand Napolitano, they also voted unanimously in favor of her maintaining her position.
George Kieffer, chairman of the UC Board of Regents, voiced support for Napolitano’s continued role as UC president but also rebuked her actions in the audit.
“The president’s decision to approve a plan to coordinate the survey responses reflected poor judgment and set in motion a course of conduct that the Board of Regents finds unacceptable,” Kieffer said in a public statement. “Her decision and the [following] actions of her direct reports reflect negatively on the University of California community.”
Napolitano defended her actions, claiming she only intended to clarify the intention of the audit to all 10 campuses. However, she apologized to UC regents and California lawmakers.
“While we believe we did things appropriately, it is clear in retrospect that we could have handled this better,” Napolitano said at the Nov. 16 meeting. “I am sorry that we did it this way, because it has created the wrong impression and detracted from the important fact that we accept the recommendations in the audit report.”
The regents also discussed multiple new policies in regards to managing future audits and university investigations. These proposals included banning any forms of interference or coordinated requests for information in responding to any state audit. Additionally, the board proposed that top audit officers report directly to the UC regents about inquiries and concerns in audit surveys or UCOP investigations rather than UCOP.
The UC regents have yet to officially approve any proposals as the board ran out of time at the Nov. 16 meeting. They will vote again at the next meeting in January. In addition to the UC’s internal policy changes on audit processes, the state government also passed a law in August that makes interfering with state audits illegal and mandates that any party responsible for interferences in the future will be fined.
Amid deliberations, some regents, including ex-officio Regent and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Regent John A. Pérez thought the UC needed to consider further actions. Though neither called for her resignation, both insisted the university should consider further repercussions for Napolitano, Jones and Grossman.
“He felt the admonishment was insignificant and there was a lack of accountability,” said Newsom’s spokesperson Rhys Williams to the LA Times. “There is no disincentive for this not to happen again.”