BY HANK REICHMAN
On April 27, University of California President Janet Napolitano announced that Linda Katehi, Chancellor of the UC Davis campus, had been placed on “investigatory leave.” The action came in the wake of repeated calls by legislators for Katehi’s resignation or dismissal. This was not yet, as some have reported, tantamount to her ouster, however, and Katehi continues to fight for her job. [It might also be noted, that if she is dismissed from her position as chancellor, she will retain her rights as a tenured faculty member.] Moreover, it is important to recognize that Napolitano’s actions were not prompted solely or even mainly by Katehi’s controversial service on corporate boards or on her now notorious use of contracts to remove negative information about her from the Internet, although Napolitano did allege that Katehi had not been fully truthful about that charge.
“Information has recently come to light that raises serious questions about whether Chancellor Katehi may have violated several University of California policies, including questions about the campus’s employment and compensation of some of the chancellor’s immediate family members, the veracity of the chancellor’s accounts of her involvement in contracts related to managing both the campus’s and her personal reputation on social media, and the potential improper use of student fees,” Napolitano’s office said in a statement. “The serious and troubling nature of these questions, as well as the initial evidence, requires a rigorous and transparent investigation.” Napolitano said she would appoint an independent investigator to compile a report before the start of the next academic year and that UC Davis Provost Ralph Hexter would fill the chancellor’s post on an acting basis. “I am deeply disappointed to take this action,” Napolitano said. “But Davis is a strong campus, nationally and internationally renowned in many academic disciplines. I’m confident of the campus’s continued ability to thrive and serve California students and the Davis community.”
Katehi’s attorney, Melinda Guzman, issued a statement following the announcement that called Napolitano’s move “entirely unjustified.”“This smacks of scapegoating and a rush to judgment driven purely by political optics, not the best interests of the university or the UC system as a whole,” Guzman wrote. “The Chancellor welcomes an independent, objective investigation and a full release of all relevant documents and public records. Make no mistake: we intend to vigorously defend Linda’s professional reputation and her standing as Chancellor of the university she loves.”
The suspension culminated a three-day drama recounted April 29 by the Sacramento Bee:
UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi was in the midst of another redemption effort just one week ago.
The 62-year-old lifelong academic and engineer had survived a mainly respectful legislative oversight hearing. She posted a video on YouTube entitled “Lessons Learned” and promised to do better in the future. She apologized for her missteps – accepting lucrative corporate board seats and the university hiring online management firms to clean up her reputation online
She spoke with The Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle, Davis Enterprise, and was preparing for an upcoming public forum on campus where she would take questions about anything – anything – from students and faculty.
Then the call came in: UC President Janet Napolitano wanted to see her Monday in her Oakland offices.
When she arrived, the message was blunt: resign by day’s end or be fired, according to sources familiar with the meeting. Katehi asked for more time, and was given a reprieve until 10 a.m. Tuesday, sources said.
She hired Sacramento attorney Melinda Guzman and set up a Thursday appointment with UC officials to negotiate a graceful exit from her six-year leadership of the campus, university officials confirmed.
Before that meeting took place, however, word of Napolitano’s demand for her resignation leaked out, propelled in part by lawmakers who had been briefed and faculty members supportive of Katehi who heard the rumblings and tried to fend off her ouster.
Katehi scrapped a radio interview and canceled the campus forum. By Wednesday morning, media outlets began reporting Katehi’s future was in doubt.
At 11:44 a.m. that day, she sent an email to deans and top managers that quickly spread campus-wide.
“This email is to let you know that I am 100 percent committed to serving as Chancellor of UC Davis,” she wrote.
Within hours, Katehi was suspended and told she would face an independent probe into allegations that she lied to Napolitano, engaged in nepotism and misused public funds.
Napolitano sent the two-page suspension letter to the media Wednesday night and provided hundreds of pages of documents The Sacramento Bee had been seeking for six weeks though California Public Records Act requests.
In her letter Napolitano pointed specifically to Katehi’s daughter-in-law, who directly reports to one of the chancellor’s staff members and had received promotions and pay increases of more than $50,000 over 2 1/2 years. During that same period, Napolitano said, Katehi approved a pay increase of more than 20% and a title change for her daughter-in-law’s supervisor. Napolitano also alleged that an academic program employing Katehi’s son as a paid graduate student researcher was recently placed under the direct supervision of the chancellor’s daughter-in-law.
“It does not appear that appropriate steps were taken to address, document or obtain approval for the fact that your son now reported to your daughter-in-law, who, in turn, was supervised by one of your direct reports,” Napolitano wrote.
However, in an executive meeting called shortly after Katehi was put on leave, the Academic Senate at UC Davis reviewed the employment and compensation of Katehi’s son and found that he was not being directly supervised by the chancellor’s daughter-in-law or any other family member, Academic Senate Chair André Knoesen said in an email to senators. “The student is employed in association with a research center, in a position appropriate for a graduate student,” said Knoesen, who is a professor in electrical and computer engineering.
Faculty and student opinion has been divided about Katehi’s role, with some, especially in engineering and the sciences, supporting her and others, especially in the humanities, calling for her departure. Indeed, as the Bee reported, “Her mixed record of accomplishments and missteps have sharply divided the campus, with some calling for her resignation and others stoutly defending her despite Napolitano’s actions.”
The UC and UC Davis student associations have called for Katehi’s resignation, expressing outrage over reports of lucrative moonlighting while students financially struggled and her efforts to cleanse the Internet of references to the pepper-spraying incident. But UC Davis student body president Alex Lee said students also appreciated her.
Among other things, Katehi’s billion-dollar fundraising campaign provided $162.5 million for student support, including nearly 1,500 scholarships, fellowships and awards. She has launched new efforts to help black, Latino, Native American and undocumented students academically succeed and graduate.
Davis also has led the 10-campus UC system in admitting California students – a touchy issue as criticism has mounted that UC has given preferential treatment to applicants from outside the state because they pay higher tuition.
In addition, Lee said, Katehi hired a new campus police chief following the pepper-spraying incident who has worked well with students.
“Students are divided over what they think should happen to the chancellor,” he said. “They do understand that she’s done a lot of great things and she’s a rare breed: she’s repentant. But the pepper-spraying incident left a deep scar on the campus.”
There have also been charges that Katehi has been singled out because she is a woman. On April 24, a former and the incoming chair of the Davis Academic Senate sent the following letter to President Napolitano:
Dear President Napolitano:
We want to express grave concern over a pattern of negativism in the press and social media regarding women Chancellors and senior administrative leaders. There are strong parallels between the singularly intensive criticism of our Chancellor Linda Katehi and that previously of Chancellors Fox (UCSD) and Denton (UCSC), and of UC Vice President Greenwood. Yet, the activities that are being criticized clearly fall within the standards of UCwide practice. This pattern is exemplified by a 2006 LA Times article that criticized compensation practices for senior UC executives: those singled out for criticism for “extravagant pay practices, perks and privilege for top executives” are all women (http://articles.latimes.com/2006/feb/16/local/me-cap16). The intensity of the criticism at the time ended in tragedy for Chancellor Denton. Chancellor Fox’s term was equally framed as fraught with turmoil, turmoil apparently not experienced by her male colleagues who were facing identical issues due to budget cuts and lack of diversity and inclusion. In an article in the San Diego Union Tribune written on Chancellor Fox’s decision to step down (http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2011/jul/05/fox-leaving-ucsd/?#article-copy), she is described in terms steeped in implicit gender bias such as the quote ascribed to former President Atchinson: “She handled that as well as she could have handled it” – not as well as anyone could have handled it or as well as it could have been handled.
Women in leadership positions are often the victims of intense implicit bias and, as a consequence, of the phenomenon of “single storyism” – the reduction of their actions to a simple narrative that appeals to the biases of a broad section of society, in this case implicit gender bias and women being incompetent for their position. Whatever they say or do in response is twisted to fit the “single story.” We think the LA Times article listed above illustrates perfectly the problem of the single story experienced by senior women administrators at UC. If the LA Times story were rewritten today, Chancellor Katehi’s name is likely the only one that would be added to the list.
All of UC is richer because of the participation of women and underrepresented groups at all levels. We know you and your leadership team share this belief. We are concerned that UCOP does not recognize that senior administrators who are identified with an underrepresented identity vital to our diversity are subject to vilification in the press simply because of that identity. We are also concerned, as recent press regarding our Chancellor Katehi demonstrates, that Chancellors and other senior administrators are not well-equipped to deal with single storyism, nor is there the recognition that others, such as UCOP, must step in to address the criticism as well.
The absence of factual information on UC policies and practices with respect to external compensation for all senior administrators has led to speculative and negative public debate regarding a single senior woman, when the practice of external involvement is widespread. We would like to request clear articulation from UCOP of both the formal policies and the informal practices as they pertain to executive compensation (e.g., have senior managers been encouraged to participate in activities outside UC). We note that legislators are calling for the same review. UCOP’s understanding of the broader issues involved is essential to informing these external discussions. The need for UCOP to take action is urgent.
We thank you for considering this request.
Linda F. Bisson, Former Chair, Davis Division of the Academic Senate, 2006-2008 & 2011-2012
Rachael E. Goodhue, Chair Elect, Davis Division of the Academic Senate 2016-2018
c: André Knoesen, Chair, Davis Division of the Academic Senate
Dan Hare, Chair, Academic Senate
Linda Katehi, Chancellor, UCD
As rumors swirled that Napolitano had asked Katehi to resign, more than 400 faculty members signed a petition opposing the UC president’s intervening without consulting the campus Academic Senate and other administrators. Professor Bisson, the former Senate chair who also chaired the search committee that hired Katehi in 2009, said the latest issues raised by Napolitano needed to be thoroughly examined. Asked if she remained pro-Katehi, Bisson said she would withhold judgment until the investigation was completed. “I’m pro-facts. I’m pro-transparency,” she said. “Then we go forward.”
The controversy suggests that “the Katehi affair” is less about Katehi herself than it is about consistent definition and enforcement of expectations and about the growing corporatization of the university. This is the main point made by Chris Newfield, Professor of English at UC Santa Barbara, on his blog, Remaking the University. In a post entitled “The Costs of the Katehi Affair,” Newfield writes:
The simplest political question posed by the ongoing Katehi crisis is, “Can state government trust the University of California to clean its own house?” The non-firing of Linda Katehi says, “No.” It’s hard to imagine a better targeted confirmation of UC’s reputation in Sacramento for poor management. If we didn’t have the Katehi Affair, Jerry Brown would have had to invent it.
Yes she deserves due process, yes women chancellors deserve it as much as male chancellors do, and yes the campus view should be decisive rather than UCOP’s. But UC’s bureaucracy should have prevented the chancellor’s “mistakes” before they happened, or an internal investigation should have caught them before the Sacramento Bee did, or President Napolitano should have completed her investigation before she tried to fire Chancellor Katehi, or she should have succeeded in firing her on the basis of the preponderance of the evidence she already had. None of these things happened.
Dense corporate controls entangle every regular UC employee on a daily basis. It takes dozens of person-hours in a half-dozen offices to set up a post-doc contract. A researcher can wait 6 months–at least I once did–to get final approval on an outside vendor contract when there is a wrinkle, like a specialized foreign researcher who doesn’t carry liability insurance. The Katehi affair tells the public that senior managers live by different rules. It says the same thing to UC employees.
One type of damage appeared in CHE coverage of faculty views, where the faculty seemed not just divided but individually ambivalent and unclear. The title of the piece could have been, “What’s Going On?” The interviewees were not working from an explicit standard of management behavior that they felt they should enforce. Contrast these views with the UC Davis students whom Amy Goodman interviewed and aired on Friday. Seniors Parisa Esfahani and Kyla Burke produced precise, detailed explanations of the conduct they were protesting. They tied that to their big picture policy issue, “the normalization of the privatization of the university,” which they said was subordinating education to money making. They offered an integrated analysis of the range of Katehi “mistakes” as symptoms of a worldview that they did not accept. The sense of belonging to the university, and the right / obligation to establish principles to which its leadership would be held to account, has come from the undergraduates.
I thought Linda Katehi should have resigned after the pepper-spray incident in 2011. I thought this not because it “happened on her watch,” but because she was unable or unwilling to fix it afterwards. The officer in question, John Pike, earned global fame for the casual contempt with which he doused seated protesters with pepper spray, marking them as outside of the universitas, outside of society. Chancellor Katehi didn’t rush to the students’ defense, and/or condemn the act (even with the using “pending a full investigation”), and/or discipline wrongdoers in a direct and forthright way. Her eventual reaction became her trademark: slow, calculated, and unsatisfying. This helped spread the damage through the system, as UCOP hired celebrity chief Bill Bratton’s then-firm Kroll Security, with its own conflicts, to investigate UC overall. She seemed not to take hold of the real issue–obvious police misconduct leading to the violation of the civil rights of the protesters, and of their human dignity. “These are our students, or our neighbors. And this is a university,” she did not say. She did not convene the university as a community with the permanent, historic obligation to understand itself. My gut feeling was that she presided over “UC Davis” without connection to it. I was struck by her walk through the silent crowd of students, at night, surrounded by bodyguards, unable or unwilling to speak, as though enfolded in a martyrdom of her own making.
I won’t rehearse her current errors–they have received much attention, including Angus Johnston’s definitive anatomy of the inane Internet scrubbling contract. But I will note that her board service was not like that of the other chancellors. She accepted positions at institutions that are directly opposed to UC interests. King Abdulaziz University games rankings with cash payments to prominent researchers for quasi-no-show jobs in exchange for sharing their citation credit, in order to leapfrog universities that have built reputations over decades. Wiley thrives by overcharging universities and their students for their own research results. DeVry prospers more when UC’s public funding is less. Such board payments are not invitations to internal critique–these institutions get abundant external critiques for free–but to use public servant stature to legitimate for-profits. Chancellor Katehi has shown serial poor judgment, and to me all the incidents flow from the same failure to understand how people think and feel when involved in public service. She’s not a bad person. She just doesn’t get it.
My diffuse but fundamental concern is the general aura or ethos that Linda Katehi has helped sustain. It’s not so much the petty self-dealing, culminating in putting her reputation ahead of that of the entire university’s, as it is the short selling of what a university is. The university should stand for justice, enlightenment, and the continuous reconciliation of our private interests with the general welfare. It should constantly trace great teaching and research back to open communication. It should benefit student finances rather than hurting them. It should be a public good in the existential sense, where, for starters, regular citizens feel like the university is on their side. It should model democracy, starting with managers possessed of generosity toward the role of student protesters in having prompted the investigations, and of enough epistemological humility to learn from critics.
This is the university I want. I’m convinced the wider public wants it too. We have already learned what happens when we don’t deliver it.
I agree, but getting rid of Katehi won’t solve the problem. It’s a lot bigger than one tone-deaf chancellor.