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Janet Napolitano and Jim Greenwood Talk Innovation, Homeland Security, and Politics at #BIO2016 Fireside Chat

June 8, 2016
Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California, emphasized the need for research at every level, while also touching upon homeland security issues like the Zika virus and the current presidential election during a fireside chat yesterday with Jim Greenwood at the 2016 BIO International Convention.

At the University of California “we teach for California, but we research for the world,” Napolitano explained to Greenwood when he asked about the challenges the university faced in balancing the need for academic research with research that can cure disease.  Napolitano further noted that “Science builds upon science builds upon science builds upon science,” stating that sometimes what starts as academic can grow into something more.

As the conversation turned to budgets, Napolitano and Greenwood discussed the challenges in obtaining federal funding for research, in light of shrinking budgets.  Young scientists are increasingly having a difficult time obtaining funding for their research.  Napolitano expressed her concern about the amount of science and research we are leaving on the table due to lack of funding.  “The path of research must be accelerated,” she said.

Given Napolitano’s past role as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, she and Greenwood discussed the current Zika situation and the challenge scientists faced in obtaining funding from Congress.  She noted that this was “classic Congress not being willing to pay what you need to pay to get things done.”  Napolitano explained that the Ebola funding Congress would like to divert to Zika is already committed.  Meanwhile, she noted, Zika is here.  “Those mosquitos don’t have to go through border check points.”

As talk shifted to the election, Greenwood asked Napolitano for her thoughts on Donald Trump’s proposed wall between the US and Mexico, in light of the fact that she served as governor of Arizona.  Jim stated that in his opinion, the wall wouldn’t work for a range of issues, including problems with eminent domain, laws about migratory species and trade.  Napolitano agreed, stating that she didn’t think the idea would work.  She commented, “show me a 10-foot wall, and I’ll show you an 11-foot ladder,”

“Too many people are angry and fearful,” Napolitano noted, responding to a question from Greenwood about the fact that our nominating process brought us two presidential candidates that are unpopular.  She added that while our economy has rebounded, the key metric that hasn’t trended is wage.  Napolitano said, “the specter of gross inequality is haunting this election.”

Turning back to innovation, Napolitano shared a new university program, UC Ventures, that seeks to invest in opportunities arising from the research innovation, entrepreneurship and technology commercialization efforts of the UC System.  The program, which is only about a year old, could serve as a model for other large universities and states.