SAN FRANCISCO — University of California President Janet Napolitano is crossing the border next week to send a “strong and loud” message to Mexico — which she clearly hopes will resonate in Washington — that America should not isolate its neighbor.
The three-day trip starting next Wednesday is meant to reassure Mexico that UC campuses remain committed to academic and research collaboration despite the Trump administration’s plan to build a border wall and decrease federal research funding, said UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein.
The trip comes at a “very propitious time to strengthen ties,” Klein said in a telephone interview Thursday. “And to send a very strong and loud message – to our counterparts in higher education, to the Mexican government, to the private sector in Mexico, to researchers, scholars and the Mexican people – that we believe it is wrong to isolate and antagonize this important neighbor.”
Strengthening cross-border ties doesn’t typically fall to university presidents. But Napolitano is well-versed in the world of politics and U.S.-Mexico relations, as former governor of Arizona and former U.S. Homeland Security chief. Like many university presidents, Napolitano has been outspoken since President Donald Trump’s election on protecting students who entered the country illegally, saying the UC will not assist government agencies trying to enforce federal immigration laws.
Napolitano launched the UC-Mexico Initiative in January 2014, shortly after taking up her job at the University of California, to coordinate research, academic programs and student exchanges between Mexico and the UC’s 10 campuses. It focuses on five areas of common concern: arts and culture, education, energy, environment and academic mobility.
“Regardless of what is happening federally, the University of California remains open to academic partnerships with Mexico,” Napolitano told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, adding that research won’t stop even if federal funding does, “We will be searching for other sources of funding.”
Klein said the UC has provided $3 million dollars to the initiative and researchers have raised an additional $12 million, primarily from the National Science Foundation, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, the largest university in Mexico known as UNAM, and Tec de Monterrey, a private university that has numerous joint research projects with UC schools.
During her trip, Napolitano is scheduled to meet with U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson to reaffirm UC’s commitment to strengthening collaboration with Mexican institutions, according to her itinerary. She will also speak to the US-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, visit with students in Mexico and business leaders.