On April 27, University of California President Janet Napolitano announced that Linda Katehi, Chancellor of the UC Davis (UCD) campus, had been placed on “investigatory leave” and named Provost Ralph Hexter as Interim Chancellor. The following statement from thirteen University of California, Davis (UCD) graduate students appeared yesterday in the Davis Vanguard:
We, the undersigned graduate students in Comparative Literature, write with growing concern over the sudden and unexpected appointment of Ralph Hexter as acting chancellor of UC Davis. Our opposition to this appointment stems from several principled objections.
Firstly, Hexter, in the capacity of provost, not only condoned the violations for which former chancellor Katehi is currently under investigation, but, as her second in command, actively supported and encouraged the implementation of policies privatizing the public university and streamlining public education at the expense of the growing undergraduate student body for the sake of short term profitability, actions which, as we well know, have been the catalyst for numerous recent protests against the deterioration of the public university not only at UC Davis but across the UC system.
Secondly, Hexter, like Katehi before him, has been instrumental in suppressing and criminalizing dissent on this campus in its multiple forms. For one, we object to his role as intermediary between the chancellor and the UCDPD during the infamous events of November 18th, 2011, in which peaceful demonstrators were, in contradiction to UC policy, beaten with batons and doused with weapons-grade pepper spray. Additionally, we recall Hexter’s involvement in the legal prosecution of the so-called Davis Dozen, whose actions in front of the former US Bank branch at the MU were meant to emphasize the very illegitimate relationship between private money and public stewardship for which Katehi’s recent involvement with DeVry has come under scrutiny. As provost, Hexter also served as an accomplice to Katehi in the failure to address numerous incidences of hate crimes, racial and gendered violence on this campus, as well as to redress the university’s troubling proscription and quelling of free speech regarding the repression of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and his continued defense of the university’s financial ties to the Israeli state which have come, justifiably, under heavy criticism. Further, we find his vacillations in dealing with the recent Mrak Hall protests to be less than satisfactory. While claiming to respect the rights of the protestors, Hexter belied a condescending and insulting attitude toward them, with explicit dissatisfaction with, for example, “odors emanating from the protesters’ food and the garbage they leave behind.” This itself reeks of the classist language used to demonize and criminalize poverty and homelessness, products of the very structures of financial and social inequality plaguing the privatized model of the university and intensified under Katehi’s leadership.
Thirdly, and most importantly, in utter disregard for the recent Mrak Hall protestors’ demand for an open, inclusive, and democratic process for proposing, evaluating and hiring a new chancellor to replace Katehi, Hexter’s recent appointment was accomplished by fiat, as it were, unbeknown to the campus community and without our active democratic participation in the election process.
We recognize the risks taken by the voices raised at Mrak and elsewhere that faced intimidation and potential retribution. We find it necessary to stand with them unequivocally, to make clear that our ethics will not be held ransom by threats of academic reprisal.
For these reasons, we call for the immediate suspension of Hexter’s appointment as chancellor and demand a free election on the basis of equal undergraduate, graduate, and faculty (both senate and temporary lecturers) participation to determine which figure (or figures) most appropriately represent our public community against the encroachment of private interests whose damage to the university’s reputation and public commitment is already so severe.
The Vanguard also reported that students have expressed concerns about Hexter’s role as President of Hampshire College in 2010 after two years of student protests there. Among students’ claims were that Hexter and his administration took no steps towards their pleas for additional faculty and staff positions in multicultural affairs, as well as mandatory training on issues of race, class, and gender for all employees. Instead, he approved the construction of a new building on the Hampshire College campus amidst tuition increases, a decision with which the majority of students disagreed, calling it “another building we don’t need” and “a squandering of funds and priorities.” Hexter was firm that during economic crises, universities must make staff cuts and raise tuition.
One student told the Vanguard, “As Provost, it is nearly impossible to believe that he was none the wiser about Katehi’s missteps. And yet, throughout our calls for her resignation, the administration, which includes Hexter, voiced staunch support for Katehi’s leadership. That is either bad judgment or a disloyalty to transparency and common morals. The whole ideology needs to change. The University is for the students, funded by the students but not of the students. Without us, there’s no UC. And yet, it’s like we have no bargaining power.”
Meanwhile, at a special meeting on Tuesday the Davis Academic Senate’s Representative Assembly endorsed two resolutions proposed by the Senate’s Executive Council. The resolutions addressed what Senate chair André Knoesen told his colleagues in a letter were deep concerns “over the handling of recent events regarding Chancellor Katehi.” At issue were the lack of shared governance between the campus and the UC Office of the President, and damage to UC Davis’s reputation.
According to a report in the Davis Enterprise, “On Sunday, the Executive Council approved its first resolution — by a 25-1 vote — to request that UC President Janet Napolitano consult with the Senate chairman; make “every possible effort to mitigate damage to the UC Davis institution” and “conclude the investigation of Chancellor Katehi within a month of its initiation, or as soon as possible.” The Executive Council passed the second resolution by a 20-1 vote, resolving that UCD’s Academic Senate, “through representatives, play a role in defining the scope of the investigation, the manner in which it is conducted, and the substance of the analysis and its conclusions.”
The Assembly voted to support the two motions, with much of the discussion surrounding the “confusion” over how information has been circulated to UCD faculty. As Knoesen told Senate members in an email, “The abruptness with which the decision to suspend Chancellor Katehi was announced and the lack of communication and consultation with the Division Senate as the situation developed creates the perception that the decision was driven by forces outside UC Davis.”
Indeed, faculty members said that UCD faculty first heard about Katehi’s investigatory administrative leave not from UCOP [University of California Office of the President], but from UC Berkeley faculty. UCD faculty learned that a copy of the memo from Napolitano’s office had been leaked to Berkeley faculty, some of whom forwarded it to UCD colleagues. This was cited this as an example of how poor the communication between the Academic Senate and UCOP has been.
UPDATE: No sooner had I posted the above than it was announced that a former U.S. Attorney from San Francisco has been named to lead the investigation of Katehi. Melinda Haag will head up the independent probe, according to UC President Janet Napolitano’s office. As U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, she oversaw high-profile prosecutions that included San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds and former California state Sen. Leland Yee. Haag, a partner in the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, will work with McGregor Scott, another partner in the firm, who is based in Sacramento and was U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California.
Katehi’s lawyer, Melinda Guzman, a former trustee of the California State University system, said she had not been notified of the appointment, but reiterated that Katehi has done nothing wrong. “We obviously want a fair, timely, thoughtful and transparent process,” Guzman said. “We believe that the allegations are wholly without merit. We look forward to receiving information from the Office of the President so we can engage in a meaningful process, one that we think will uphold the chancellor’s credibility and integrity in her profession.”