UC President Janet Napolitano reads her statement concerning the audit conducted Elaine Howle (right), state auditor. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press)

By Nanette Asimov and Melody Gutierrez
May 14, 2017

News that thousands of students at the University of California often go hungry because they can’t afford meals prompted a generous promise last summer from UC President Janet Napolitano: $3.3 million for more food pantries and other ways of feeding the young scholars.

The money, to be spent over two years, would come from the “president’s initiative fund,” a discretionary pool of cash financed by the interest from university investments, UC officials told The Chronicle in July.

It turns out the food allotment is part of the $175 million that California State Auditor Elaine Howle says the president’s office hid in secret funds and did not spend as of June 2016. Howle said in her April 25 audit of spending in the president’s office that Napolitano regularly submitted inflated budgets and swept unspent money into secret reserves to spend on projects of her choosing — then asked the regents to raise tuition for next fall.

The approved tuition increase is expected to raise $143 million for UC next year — less than the money squirreled away in the central office in Oakland that performs administrative services across the UC system’s 10 campuses, five medical centers and three national laboratories.

The Chronicle took a closer look at the $175 million and met Friday with Napolitano’s chief operating officer, Rachel Nava, and other budget experts to learn more about why their office didn’t disclose the money to the regents or the public as part of the president’s office budget.

In addition to the food program, Napolitano’s office set aside funds to pay for initiatives such as “carbon neutrality,” to help UC become the first university to end its reliance on fossil fuels by 2025; cash to make up for federal financial aid, Pell grants, that have been canceled for summer study; wetlands restoration at UC Merced; and financial aid for immigrant students living here illegally.

The president’s staff insists — contrary to what Howle found — that they were transparent about the funds.

To read expanded article, click here.