Caught on camera: Janet Napolitano calls anti-tuition-hike student protest ‘crap’

Janet Napolitano.(Reuters / Beck Diefenbach)
The first rule of broadcasting and politics is that the mic is always hot. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano forgot that rule during a University of California regents meeting, calling a student protest against tuition hikes "crap."

Napolitano, now the president of the UC system, was leading a Wednesday meeting of the Board of Regents at UC San Francisco. She was sitting next to Chairman Bruce Varner when the gathering was interrupted by students protesting potential tuition fee hikes and a new UC Berkeley campus in Richmond, California, KPIX reported.

At the meeting, which was being recorded, UC Berkeley junior Kristian Kim told the regents that students and Richmond residents were not to be exploited before taking off her shirt, saying it was all she had left, kicking off the protest, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Students called, “Mic check!” Then demonstrators proceeded to stand on chairs, strip down to their underwear, toss fake money in the air and yell, “Raise up Richmond! Not tuition!”

The semi-naked protesters had written “student debt” on their bodies.

The camera remained focused on Napolitano and Varner. She turned to him and said, “Let’s go.”

When he couldn’t hear her, she repeated her comment.

“Let’s go. We don’t have to listen to this crap,” the former governor of Arizona said.

Napolitano and the regents left the room, returning 20 minutes later to resume the meeting, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Earlier in the meeting, the UC president had said that she valued the students’ concerns.

READ MORE: Napolitano’s confirmation as UC president marked with angry protests

“They want to be sure that their voices are being heard and I want to commit to them that their voices are being heard,” Napolitano said.

Students at the protest said they were not surprised by her comment on the hot microphone.

“It's indicative of how she feels when students raise their voice,” UC Berkeley senior Spencer Pritchard told the Mercury News.

Kim agreed, saying it confirmed what she suspected: “a fundamental disconnect between the UC president and the community members who actually make up the UC system.”

“It’s an insult to have her as the president of UC,” Kim told KPIX. “I don’t know where she’s coming from, but I’m assuming she’s never had to deal with these [financial] issues personally. So I can understand why there would be a disconnect there.”

READ MORE: California students stage massive state-wide walkout to protest huge tuition hikes

On Thursday, the head of California’s university system apologized at another meeting of the regents by asking for “empathy and understanding.”

“I’m sorry for using a word I don’t usually use,” Napolitano said, according to KPIX.

Pritchard wasn’t placated by the atonement, however.

“I know what she said is what she felt,” he said, “and so the apology means nothing to me anyway.”

Protesters told KPIX that they suspected the meetings were scheduled during a busy week of midterms, but that they won’t stop protesting until their message is heard.

The students are demonstrating against a proposed 5 percent annual tuition increase for the next five years, and are pushing for the UC system to sign an agreement to bring jobs and other benefits to low-income residents of Richmond, a city just north of Berkeley. UC’s flagship campus is developing a secondary location in Richmond.