By Sharon Bernstein
(Reuters) - The University of California's governing board was expected to vote on Thursday to confirm U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to become the first woman president of the prestigious 10-campus system.
Napolitano's nomination to head the sprawling UC system, long regarded as one of the top U.S. public universities, was announced last Friday by a 10-member special search committee as she revealed she was leaving President Barack Obama's cabinet.
If approved as anticipated by the Board of Regents, she would become the 20th president in the 145-year history of the university, which has been battered by nearly two decades of boom-and-bust funding, leading to tuition increases and classroom shortages.
The financial crunch has strained university relations with faculty and staff who have been hit with furloughs and hiring freezes.
The appointment of Napolitano, a career politician who has never held an academic post, has generated controversy.
Republicans have long criticized the former two-term Arizona governor, a Democrat, most recently saying she was 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.
Some opposition to her UC hiring was expected to surface Thursday afternoon, when the regents were due to hold a public session in San Francisco to discuss the appointment.
A vote was scheduled after the session, and a university spokeswoman said the Napolitano would speak publicly about the job at that time.
Last Friday, she announced she would resign as secretary of Homeland Security, pending the regents' decision.
Napolitano has acknowledged she is 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.
She was credited with championing the cause of public education during her gubernatorial tenure and protecting funding for the state's universities, even as she faced a $1 billion budget deficit upon assuming office.
Departing UC President Mark Yudof, also a lawyer, was chancellor of the University of Texas and president of the University of Minnesota before taking over at the University of California. He will step down on August 31 at the end of the academic year.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Jeffrey Benkoe)