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Investigation Finds University Of California Officials Interfered With Audit

Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, speaks at Carbon...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, speaks at Carbon Neutrality Initiative at the University of California, San Diego, Oct. 27, 2017.

Top advisers to University of California President Janet Napolitano improperly interfered in a state audit to tone down critical comments from campus administrators about the president's office, an investigation ordered by the UC regents found.

The investigation finds that officials in the president's office instructed UC campuses not to "air dirty laundry" to the state auditor, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which reviewed the report ahead of its public release on Thursday.

The investigation was conducted by former state Supreme Court justice Carlos Moreno and a Southern California law firm, Hueston Hennigan. It says Napolitano approved the plan that resulted in interference and "forthrightly acknowledged her role."

As part of a 2016 review of finances at Napolitano's office, State Auditor Elaine Howle sent confidential surveys to each campus. She discarded the survey results after learning of the interference from Napolitano's office. Her highly critical audit found that the UC headquarters failed to disclose $175 million in reserve funds, paid its staff generously and had relied on weak budget practices.

The Chronicle reports that investigators found evidence that the president's office chief of staff, Seth Grossman, and his deputy, Bernie Jones, directed the interference and oversaw changes to confidential survey responses from three campuses — Santa Cruz, Irvine and San Diego. Their changes put Napolitano's office in a better light.

Grossman and Jones also sought to keep the matter secret, warning each other by text messages to keep communications "off of email," the newspaper reported.

The report contradicts Napolitano's statements to the regents and the Legislature that campuses were confused by the surveys and requested assistance from her office. Rather, investigators said Napolitano's staff required campus officials to share their responses.

"While some (campus vice chancellors) contacted UC officials in Oakland to inform them they had received the surveys, there is no evidence that any (campus vice chancellors) expressed 'confusion' to UC senior leaders before" the president's office began planning to review their survey answers, investigators said.

Grossman and Jones resigned last week. Through spokesman Nathan Ballard, Grossman said UC's internal audit staff had recommended that the president's office review the survey responses and that UC's attorneys had approved it.

Dianne Klein, Napolitano's spokeswoman, said earlier that the president "takes full responsibility for the fact that her office reviewed campus survey responses before they were sent to the state auditor. She has publicly apologized for this. As she has said previously, had she to do this over again, she would not have approved this approach."

Gov. Jerry Brown this year signed a bill prompted by the UC controversy that makes imposes a $5,000 fine if agencies interfere with a state audit. The measure takes effect Jan. 1.

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