On the University of California, II: Chancellors Gone Wild

BY HANK REICHMAN

This is the second in a series examining issues in the University of California (UC) system, the nation’s premier public research university.  The first entry in the series, on the UC’s funding challenge, may be found here

On March 5, I began a post on this blog entitled “Corporatizers Gone Wild!” with these words:  “For those who don’t yet understand what academics mean when we talk about the ‘corporatization’ of the university, a good way to begin learning might be to take a look at recent events surrounding the University of California (UC) at Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, previously notorious for presiding over the pepper-spraying of her own students” in November 2011.

More than a month later the controversy surrounding Katehi continues.  In case you missed it, Katehi initially came under fire for taking a board position with DeVry Education Group, a for-profit firm that offers college degrees online and on 55 campuses nationwide, including 13 in California, and is under federal scrutiny for allegedly exaggerating job placement and income statistics.  She resigned that post and apologized soon after.  Then it was revealed that Katehi had received a total of $420,000 in income and stock across the 2012-2014 fiscal years as a board member for John Wiley & Sons, a publisher of textbooks, college materials and scholarly journals. Her tenure came as students and state leaders sought to reduce the cost of textbooks and encouraged public colleges to use free, digital alternatives.  Then it was revealed that Katehi had also moonlighted as a board member at a Saudi Arabian university that has been accused of buying its way to an impressive international ranking.  Katehi served on the board of King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah at about the time the university came under fire for its aggressive global recruitment of highly cited researchers with offers of $6,000 or $7,000 a month and free stays at five-star hotels.

As my previous post demonstrated, Katehi is hardly alone among UC campus chancellors who moonlight on corporate boards for big money.  But for better or worse she has become the poster child for the phenomenon.  Multiple lawmakers have demanded her resignation.  [UPDATE: Soon after this was posted yet another legislator, Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) joined the list of those calling for Katehi’s departure.] And for more than a month a group of protesting students have been occupying the fifth floor of the Mrak Hall administration building on the Davis campus demanding Katehi’s dismissal around a series of issues outlined in an online petition (which as of this writing has attracted just 474 signatures).  [See also two additional expressions of student sentiment here and from UCLA here.]

In an email to students, Katehi acknowledged that her position on DeVry’s board violated rules governing outside employment while arguing that, overall, she pushed the corporations that paid her to be better actors and added to the diversity of their boards. She also pledged to use $200,000 of her compensation to start a scholarship fund.

Here are her words:

My acceptance of the position on the DeVry Education Group board of directors did not comply with UC policy. I made an error in accepting it. I take full responsibility for that error, and I have resigned from the board. I accepted the position because I believed I could help DeVry better evaluate its procedures for delivering a sound curriculum and for measuring students’ performance and progress post-graduation. Nevertheless, I apologize for my mistake and the distraction this has caused for our university community.

My service on the board of John Wiley and Sons from 2011-2014 complied with UC policy. My goal in accepting that position was to help Wiley improve the quality of its educational materials, while making them more accessible and affordable for students. While I recognize and appreciate the concerns raised by many in our community about my service on the Wiley board, my work on the board had no impact on UC textbook purchases.

I served on an unpaid advisory panel of King Abdulaziz University from 2012-2013, which included the former president of Ohio State University; however, I did not participate in any meetings. My appointment complied with University of California policies. My goal was to increase student diversity. To further our work together on behalf of California students, here is my commitment to our UC Davis community: I will establish a $200,000 scholarship fund for California undergraduate students at UC Davis from my Wiley stock proceeds.

Service on private and public boards is widely recognized as a responsibility of academic leaders. As a woman and a STEM scholar, my service has helped to correct the chronic lack of diversity on a number of boards. My pledge to the UC Davis community is to more carefully vet such invitations and to meticulously follow UC approval procedures in the future.

But the protesters persist. “It’s nothing against her as a person, but the chancellor is not doing her job,” says Eran Zelnik, a student involved in the 2011 pepper spray attack.  Now a UC-Davis grad student, Zelnik says he’s participating in the sit-in because “we as students have a radically different vision about what public service and leadership means and things will not change until we have someone here who does.”

Student activist Emily Breuninger estimated that a total of 100 students have participated in the sit-in, countlng everyone who has stopped in, with around 20 students present at any given time. (A Davis spokesman said that it’s rare for as many as 20 students to be present, and that they estimate fewer than 100 total students.) “If we’re able to get rid of her,” Breuninger argued, “that’s the first step toward retaking our university.”

Environmental science and management major Kyla Burke was a freshman when students were pepper-sprayed on the campus quad. “I didn’t even know Chancellor Katehi’s name before that,” she said.  According to The Atlantic,

At the time, Burke wasn’t involved in campus activism, but saw fellow students lose faith in their chancellor. “If she actually supported what the campus wanted she would’ve stepped down then. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the campus as united,” she said.

Burke, who is black, later started participating in campus activism as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Its incarnation at UC Davis was fueled both by events in Ferguson, Missouri, and by a hate crime perpetrated against a black student near the small-town campus. The men later arrested for the assault were not students. But some black students felt that the university wasn’t doing enough to keep them safe. The Black Student Union, like other black student groups around the country, issued a number of demands. Overall, they compared favorably with those made at other institutions in their specificity, viability, and call for more study (though some demands would compromise the principle of viewpoint neutrality at Davis).

After participating in student organizing and activism, Burke felt that administrators at Davis “only want to support black student activists when it isn’t inconvenient,” adding “when it isn’t good PR they don’t care anymore.” She said that while what instigated this month’s protest were Katehi’s “moonlighting positions,” students were eager to occupy her office partly “because of past problems.”

Although Katehi retains support among faculty members, especially in engineering and the sciences, largely it seems for her prowess in raising funds for those disciplines (and perhaps, I’ve been told, because some of her appointed program leaders have allegedly intimidated critics), on March 29, a group of 33 faculty members released a statement supporting the student occupiers, which read in part:

As faculty of the University of California, Davis we stand in solidarity with the students calling for the Chancellor’s resignation and occupying Mrak Hall. . . .

The students in question are justly protesting the recent actions of Chancellor Linda Katehi and, in particular, her involvement with DeVry University, King Abdulaziz University, and Wiley and Sons textbook company. The idea that the same office would also determine how such activities should be properly protested is not only unjust but a clear conflict of interest. This is unacceptable governance. . . .

At a time when our students are facing ever increasing fees, class sizes, and exorbitantly priced textbooks, the Chancellor’s actions demonstrate poor judgment and weak ethical standards that have eroded our confidence in her leadership.

As faculty we call on Chancellor Katehi to resign. We demand further that the Regents of the University of California reevaluate its Conflict of Interest policy, which allows University Chancellors to serve on outside Boards for pay.

UC President Janet Napolitano, however, has voiced her support for Katehi, declaring, “I appreciate that Chancellor Katehi has apologized and taken responsibility for having accepted board positions that created an appearance of conflicts of interest with her University responsibilities.  I deeply value Linda’s strong record in helping to make UC Davis a world-class center of scholarship and research, and continue to believe in the value of her contributions to the University.  We will take all steps necessary to prevent a recurrence of this unfortunate incident.”

But still hanging over Katehi’s leadership remains the November 18, 2011 incident when a group of peaceful undergraduates, assembled lawfully on a campus quad, was brutally pepper-sprayed at point-blank range by a UC police officer. “I take full responsibility for the events,” Katehi said back then, amid earlier calls for her resignation.  And the incident won’t go away.  This week the Sacramento Bee revealed that the Katehi administration had “contracted with consultants for at least $175,000 to scrub the Internet of negative online postings following the November 2011 pepper spraying of students and to improve the reputations of both the university and” Chancellor Katehi.

According to the Bee, which obtained documents under California’s Public Records Act,

Some payments were made in hopes of improving the results computer users obtained when searching for information about the university or Katehi, results that one consultant labeled “venomous rhetoric about UC Davis and the chancellor.”

Others sought to improve the school’s use of social media and to devise a new plan for the UC Davis strategic communications office, which has seen its budget rise substantially since Katehi took the chancellor’s post in 2009.  Figures released by UC Davis show the strategic communications budget increased from $2.93 million in 2009 to $5.47 million in 2015.

“We have worked to ensure that the reputation of the university, which the chancellor leads, is fairly portrayed,” said UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis. “We wanted to promote and advance the important teaching, research and public service done by our students, faculty and staff, which is the core mission of our university.”

Money to pay the consultants came from the communications department budget, Topousis said.

The Bee report continues,

In January 2013, UC Davis signed on with a Maryland company called Nevins & Associates for a six-month contract that paid $15,000 a month.

“Nevins & Associates is prepared to create and execute an online branding campaign designed to clean up the negative attention the University of California, Davis, and Chancellor Katehi have received related to the events that transpired in November 2011,” a six-page proposal from Nevins promised.

“Online evidence and the venomous rhetoric about UC Davis and the Chancellor are being filtered through the 24-hour news cycle, but it is at a tepid pace,” the proposal said.

The objectives Nevins outlined for the contract included “eradication of references to the pepper spray incident in search results on Google for the university and the Chancellor.”

That objective was to be achieved by advising UC Davis officials on the use of Google platforms as part of “an aggressive and comprehensive online campaign to eliminate the negative search results for UC Davis and the Chancellor.”

“[F]or a public university that is funded through taxpayer funds, who has repeatedly stepped into a vast hole, it is surprising that they thought this could be done without the light of day shining on the act,” Doug Elmets, a Sacramento public affairs consultant, told the Bee. “It is one more example of how out of touch the leadership at UC Davis is when it comes to their public perspective.”

 “It is troubling that the administration chose to spend scarce public dollars and to nearly double its PR budget when tuition soared, course offerings were slashed and California resident students were being shut out,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), who chairs the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance and has previously called for Katehi’s resignation. “These findings just raise more questions about university priorities.”

According to the Bee,

The Nevins proposal for UC Davis stated that it would employ the expertise of founder David Nevins, a former chairman of the Maryland Board of Regents, and counter negative search keywords for UC Davis by using a “surge of content with positive sentiment and off-topic subject matter” about the university. . . .

Records show the university paid Nevins’ firm $92,970.73 through July 2013, including travel and lodging costs for Nevins associate Molly White.

White did not respond to messages left for her last month or Wednesday, but a resume posted for her on LinkedIn cites her experience handling “a successful 6 month long strategic SEO (search engine optimization) and online reputation management campaign for the University of California, Davis and Chancellor Linda Katehi.” . . .

In June 2014, the university hired Sacramento-based ID Media Partners in an $82,500 contract to “design and execute a comprehensive search engine results management strategy.”

The firm, which does business under the name IDMLOCO, said in documents provided by the university that its “primary goal” was to “achieve a reasonable balance of positive natural search results on common terms concerning UC Davis and Chancellor Katehi.”

A second contract was awarded to IDMLOCO in February 2015 for a fee of $8,000 a month – up to a limit of $96,000 – to develop an “integrated social media program for executive communications.”

IDMLOCO was awarded a third contract in September 2015 for $22,500 a month, or a maximum of $67,500, to “provide an assessment of the University’s Strategic Communications redesign.”

Given UC’s much reduced financial support from the state, documented in my previous post in this series, such wasteful and silly expenditures are nothing short of outrageous.  How can this be justified?!

And if only to be sure that Katehi isn’t unfairly singled out, I repost below a chart of outside corporate board positions by UC Chancellors included in my March 5 post.  But first, let me add that since that chart was assembled by the Sacramento Bee, it’s been revealed that UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, one of the most active participants in such activities, has taken on another position, this one with Avigilon Corporation of Vancouver, British Columbia, a producer of facial recognition software.  Here is what the San Diego Reader had to say about Khosla’s appointment:

San Diego has yet another high-profile connection to the video spy world.

According to a news release from the Avigilon Corporation of Vancouver, British Columbia, UCSD chancellor Pradeep Khosla has joined the board.

“Chancellor Khosla is an internationally renowned researcher, author, and educator with more than 30 years’ experience in the fields of engineering and computer science,” says the release, dated January 21.

“Chancellor Khosla has also managed advanced research and development projects for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.”

Alexander Fernandes, Avigilon’s founder, president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board, was quoted as saying of Khosla:

“His expertise in engineering and computer science, in particular with video analytics and artificial intelligence, is a valuable asset to Avigilon’s innovation and growth.”

Mahesh Saptharishi, an Avigilon executive, told the firm’s blog that faces are just the beginning.

“How people walk, how people move actually are very unique to each individual, so you could combine facial recognition information with their body movements to uniquely identify them. And when you have two mutually exclusive pieces of validation that uniquely identifies you, the accuracy now goes up without the restriction of having a cooperative subject.”

One of the company’s current specialties is video security, with clients including San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System

“With its advanced video search capabilities, the Avigilon HD Surveillance System has played a key role in our ability to resolve conflicts and prevent criminal activity across our transit system,” Larry Savoy, assistant director of security and code compliance at MTS, was quoted in a company news release as saying.

As the Reader headline put it, “Big Khosla is watching you!”

And now the promised chart:

UC Executives’ Outside Professional Activity 2012-2014
Year Name Campus Title Name of organization Type Role
2012 Birgeneau, Robert J. Berkeley Chancellor Cabot Microelectronics Corporation For-profit Board Member
2012 Birgeneau, Robert J. Berkeley Chancellor Tanner Foundation / Lectures on Human Values Non-profit Board Member
2013 Blumenthal, George R. Santa Cruz Chancellor Helius Education For-profit Member
2012 Blumenthal, George R. Santa Cruz Chancellor Helius Education For-profit Board Member
2013 Desmond-Hellmann, Susan D. San Francisco Chancellor Proctor and Gamble For-profit Committee Member
2013 Desmond-Hellmann, Susan D. San Francisco Chancellor Facebook For-profit Board Member
2012 Desmond-Hellmann, Susan D. San Francisco Chancellor Gates Foundation-Scientific Advisory Board Non-profit Committee Member
2013 Desmond-Hellmann, Susan D. San Francisco Chancellor Gates Foundation-Scientific Advisory Board Non-profit Committee Member
2012 Desmond-Hellmann, Susan D. San Francisco Chancellor Proctor and Gamble For-profit Committee Member
2013 Dirks, Nicholas Berkeley Chancellor Tanner Foundation / Lectures on Human Values Non-profit Board Member
2014 Dirks, Nicholas Berkeley Chancellor Tanner Foundation / Lectures on Human Values Non-profit Board Member
2013 Drake, Michael V. Irvine Chancellor Gilead Sciences, Inc. For-profit Member, Health Policy Advisory Board
2013 Drake, Michael V. Irvine Chancellor Bank of the West For-profit Board Member
2012 Drake, Michael V. Irvine Chancellor Glaucoma Research & Education Group Non-profit Speaker
2012 Drake, Michael V. Irvine Chancellor Bank of the West For-profit Board Member
2012 Drake, Michael V. Irvine Chancellor Gilead Sciences, Inc. For-profit Member, Health Policy Advisory Board
2012 Drake, Michael V. Irvine Chancellor California Healthcare Foundation Non-profit Board Member
2013 Drake, Michael V. Irvine Chancellor California Healthcare Foundation Non-profit Board Member
2012 Fox, Marye Anne San Diego Former chancellor Bridgepoint For-profit Board Member
2012 Fox, Marye Anne San Diego Former chancellor W. R. Grace For-profit Board Member
2012 Fox, Marye Anne San Diego Former chancellor Red Hat For-profit Board Member
2012 Fox, Marye Anne San Diego Former chancellor Dreyfus Foundation Non-profit Board Member
2012 Fox, Marye Anne San Diego Former chancellor Welch Foundation Non-profit Scientific Advisor
2013 Katehi-Tseregounis, Linda Davis Chancellor EMAG Technologies, Inc. For-profit Board Member and Owner
2014 Katehi-Tseregounis, Linda Davis Chancellor EMAG Technologies, Inc. For-profit Board Member and Owner
2012 Katehi-Tseregounis, Linda Davis Chancellor John Wiley & Sons, Inc. For-profit Board Member
2013 Katehi-Tseregounis, Linda Davis Chancellor John Wiley & Sons, Inc. For-profit Board Member
2014 Katehi-Tseregounis, Linda Davis Chancellor John Wiley & Sons, Inc. For-profit Board Member
2012 Katehi-Tseregounis, Linda Davis Chancellor EMAG Technologies, Inc. For-profit Board Member and Owner
2014 Katehi-Tseregounis, Linda Davis Chancellor NSF Division of Electrical, Communications, and Cy Non-profit Chair
2013 Khosla, Pradeep K. San Diego Chancellor Thor Energy For-profit Advisor
2014 Khosla, Pradeep K. San Diego Chancellor Biometric Core LLC For-profit Co-Founder
2014 Khosla, Pradeep K. San Diego Chancellor HCL Infosystems For-profit Board Member
2014 Khosla, Pradeep K. San Diego Chancellor Quantapoint For-profit Board Member
2014 Khosla, Pradeep K. San Diego Chancellor Engage Click For-profit Advisor
2014 Khosla, Pradeep K. San Diego Chancellor Thor Energy For-profit Advisor
2014 Khosla, Pradeep K. San Diego Chancellor Infosys Foundation Jury of Engineering Non-profit Chair
2013 Khosla, Pradeep K. San Diego Chancellor Propel IT For-profit Advisor
2013 Khosla, Pradeep K. San Diego Chancellor Engage Click For-profit Advisor
2013 Khosla, Pradeep K. San Diego Chancellor Infosys Foundation Jury of Engineering Non-profit Chair
2013 Khosla, Pradeep K. San Diego Chancellor HCL Infosystems For-profit Board Member
2013 Khosla, Pradeep K. San Diego Chancellor Quantapoint For-profit Board Member
2014 Khosla, Pradeep K. San Diego Chancellor Propel IT For-profit Advisor
2013 Khosla, Pradeep K. San Diego Chancellor Biometric Core LLC For-profit Member
2012 Yang, Henry T. Santa Barbara Chancellor American Axel and Manufacturing For-profit Board Member

Still to come in this series Title IX and Tenure; faculty pensions and compensation; and academic freedom conflicts. 

2 thoughts on “On the University of California, II: Chancellors Gone Wild

  1. Pingback: More Calls for Chancellor Katehi’s Dismissal | ACADEME BLOG

  2. Pingback: On the University of California, V: Gutting Accountability? | ACADEME BLOG

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