(Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and former governor of Arizona Janet Napolitano is being named as the next president of the University of California system and will resign from her government post, according to media reports.
A Los Angeles Times report noted on Friday morning that the decision was made through a secretive process and Napolitano will become the first woman to lead the 10-campus system for the first time in its 145-year history.
"While some may consider her to be an unconventional choice, Secretary Napolitano is without a doubt the right person at the right time to lead this incredible university," Sherry Lansing, the regent and former film industry executive who headed the search committee, noted in a statement in the Times on Friday.
"She will bring fresh eyes and a new sensibility – not only to UC, but to all of California. She will stand as a vigorous advocate for faculty, students and staff at a time when great changes in our state, and across the globe, are presenting as many opportunities as challenges," she added.
President Barack Obama introduced Napolitano, a Democrat, as his nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security in December 2008 and she was confirmed as the first woman to lead the agency on Jan. 20, 2009. Homeland security has an annual budget of $60 billion and is supported by 240,000 employees.
Napolitano, 55, strongly supports immigration reform legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the country but Republicans have argued that she has not done enough to secure the nation's borders.
An unidentified source close to Napolitano said she quietly considered the move for a long time after she was contacted by the executive search firm hired by UC.
"I think she loves working for President Obama and serving the American people, but at the same time, this is a unique opportunity," said the Times' source. Napolitano, according to the source, knows "UC is probably the premier institution in the country. She is motivated by the fact that being a part of UC, she will be a part of educating future leaders of tomorrow and be part of a state that sets so much of the agenda nationally."
Napolitano is expected to officially start her new job sometime in September, according to officials and UC regents are expected to approve her nomination on Thursday. She will succeed Mark G. Yudof, who is stepping down after five years due to health issues, to become UC's 20th president.
UC, according to the Times, has a $24 billion annual budget, 230,000 students, 191,000 faculty and staff, five medical centers and three national laboratories.