Biography of President Napolitano

Janet Napolitano is the 20th president of the University of California, and the first woman to serve in this role.

Photo of UC President Janet NapolitanoShe leads a university system of 10 campuses, five medical centers, three affiliated national laboratories, and a statewide agriculture and natural resources program. The UC system has more than 285,000 students, 227,000 faculty and staff, an operating budget of $39.8 billion, and two million living alumni.

A distinguished public servant, Napolitano served as the U.S. secretary of homeland security from 2009 to 2013, as governor of Arizona from 2003 to 2009, as attorney general of Arizona from 1998 to 2003, and as U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona from 1993 to 1997.

Since she became UC president in September 2013, Napolitano has been a steadfast advocate for California students, working to stabilize in-state tuition and to enroll historic numbers of California undergraduates. She has aimed to increase the number of qualified community college students who transfer to UC and expanded efforts to support California high school students from all backgrounds in their pursuit of a higher education.

Napolitano has launched an initiative to accelerate the translation of UC research into new businesses and inventions that benefit the public good, and she has implemented reforms to UC’s approach to preventing and responding to sexual harassment and sexual assault. She also created several programs to encourage UC students to pursue work in the public interest, including founding a first-of-its kind systemwide public service fellowship program.

In 2017, under Napolitano’s leadership, the University of California was the first university in the country to file a lawsuit to stop the federal government’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Injunctions granted in the case have allowed more than 500,000 DACA recipients—including members of the UC community—to renew their authorizations to live and work in the United States.

Napolitano has upheld the university’s legacy of leadership on global climate action, putting UC on a path to 100 percent reliance on clean electricity across all campuses and medical centers by 2025, the same year the university aims to achieve systemwide carbon neutrality. In 2017, she also spearheaded the formation of the University Climate Change Coalition, or UC3. This group of 22 leading North American research universities and systems is working to help local communities achieve their climate goals and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future.

Napolitano earned a B.S. degree (summa cum laude in political science) in 1979 from Santa Clara University, where she was Phi Beta Kappa, a Truman Scholar and the university’s first female valedictorian. She received her law degree in 1983 from the University of Virginia School of Law. In 2010, she was awarded the prestigious Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal (Law), the University of Virginia’s highest external honor. In 2014, she was appointed a tenured faculty member of UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. In 2015, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2017, she was inducted into the American Philosophical Association. She serves on the Council of the American Law Institute and is a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Napolitano is the author of “How Safe Are We: Homeland Security Since 9/11,” published in March 2019.