In Washington, her announcement Friday that she will leave President Obama’s Cabinet as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to head UC came as something of a surprise, but not nearly as startling as her aside to reporters in March that she prefers the telephone over email. Her staff, she explained, has sorted through her in-box and advised her about essential information since her days as Arizona’s attorney general. The practice continued when she was sworn in as the state’s governor in 2003, she said.

“I think e-mail just sucks up time,” she said during a journalists’ roundtable sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “You get hundreds and hundreds of things all the time, and I was like, ‘Why am I spending my time scrolling through this and responding to stuff that doesn’t really need to be responded to?’ ” Napolitano explained. “I do a lot of my own work by phone.”

On Friday, her admirers called her an “unconventional choice” to head the university system, largely because her career evolved from law into politics, rather than into higher education. Napolitano earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from California’s Santa Clara University and her law degree from the University of Virginia. She was Obama’s choice to lead DHS in 2009, in part because of her law-and-order reputation as a Democratic governor of a Republican-dominated border state.