By Laila Kearney
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was confirmed on Thursday as president of the University of California despite a loud and unruly protest by students from the prestigious 10-campus system.
Several students were forcibly removed from a meeting room at the University of California at San Francisco as the Board of Regents approved Napolitano to head the sprawling UC system at a salary of $570,000 per year.
The demonstrators, angry over Napolitano's immigration policies as Homeland Security chief, shouted "undocumented is not a crime!" as they were handcuffed by campus police and led from the room, briefly halting the hearing.
Some two dozen people had yelled "Shame! Shame! Shame!" during a public comment portion of the meeting. Others gathered outside to protest against Napolitano's approval of immigration issues and her lack of experience in education.
Napolitano becomes the first woman president in the 145-year history of the University of California, which has long been regarded as one of the top U.S. public university systems but which has been battered by nearly two decades of boom-and-bust funding, leading to tuition increases and classroom shortages.
"We all feel extremely excited about this as she brings fresh eyes to the UC system," Regent Sherry Lansing said before the vote. "She's had a lifetime of public service ... I think education is actually in her DNA."
Napolitano, a former two-term Arizona governor and Democrat, has been a lightning rod in the Obama administration for criticism by conservatives, who have accused her most recently of being soft on border control and immigration issues.
Latino leaders, meanwhile, have blasted Napolitano over immigration sweeps that led to large-scale detention and deportations involving undocumented immigrants.
"Janet Napolitano isn't qualified at all to be UC president, her background is in law and immigration enforcement. It worries me as an undocumented student to have a UC President who has put terror into my family," said demonstrator Rosa Hernandez, a 21-year-old student at the University of California at Berkeley.
Napolitano has acknowledged she was not a typical candidate and said she would meet with faculty, students, politicians and others to learn about the system.
"Whether preparing to govern a state or to lead an agency as critical and complex as Homeland Security, I have found the best way to start is simply to listen," said Napolitano, a lawyer by training.
(Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Ken Wills)