On Tuesday at the Davis Chamber’s lunch, the presence of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi may have been overshadowed by the departure of Chamber CEO Kemble Pope and his steady transition to Matt Yancey who has taken over the position.
Chancellor Katehi has had her successes and her low points during her tenure as chancellor, however, there is no doubting that she has a vision that could transform the university and the community that surrounds it. On Tuesday, she was at her best when she stuck to the vision of greatness and noted that UCD could become the most important of the UC campuses this century.
Indeed, it is the connection of UC Davis to food, agriculture and health care that she sees as the driver. At the same time, she remains inexplicably tone deaf when she talks to a group of local business leaders about the World Food Center and the Third Campus concept.
Here her soaring rhetoric became flat and she sounded more like a politician stumbling to cover up a misstep than the visionary leader wanting to lead UCD into greatness.
She argued that the third campus is not an effort to move things away from Davis, but rather the opportunity that would put the center to where it would have easy access to policymakers in Sacramento.
She said, “There is no better place than Sacramento for that type of work.”
She would add that locating the World Food Center, not on the main campus in Davis or in one of the newly-built innovations parks, but in Sacramento near the health campus would strengthen links between food and health. She stated that there would be a School of Population and Global Health located there, as well.
The financing for such an enterprise is not yet in place, and the World Food Center still has a ways to go.
The chancellor talked about partnership with Davis and Davis is starting to step up to the plate – maybe in the eyes of many in a belated way. However, we are talking about a multi-billion investment, we are talking about the center of the future not only of the University of California, but perhaps the center of feeding the world’s population.
The World Food Center talks of addressing the food needs of nine billion people.
And yet, Roger Beachy, the center’s director, said a few months ago, “We think that Sacramento — because of its growing importance as the capital of a state that has an enormous amount of influence in food and food policy nationally — seems to us quite logical to take on an increasingly international position, and UC Davis can help with that.”
Chancellor Katehi first mentioned the idea of a third campus in her annual State of the Campus presentation to the Academic Senate in February. At that time, she said the campus would emphasize UC Davis’ commitment to education, research, clinical and policy aspirations, with a focus on food, health and the environment.
“Because of our location, history and expertise, UC Davis is in a unique position to be an even greater positive source for California state government and policy than we have been in the past,” Chancellor Katehi said in a letter announcing her plans to create the advisory group to help crystallize the vision for a third campus.
“To take full advantage of that opportunity and raise the profile and reputation of the entire university, we have been thinking for some time about developing a third campus somewhere in Sacramento,” she wrote. “The time is now right to begin moving forward with this process.”
Chancellor Katehi on Tuesday all but said that the World Food Center was going to Sacramento on a third campus – and she said this to a group of Davis business leaders, many of whom will be doing the heavy lifting on the creation of innovation centers in Davis that will carry out tech transfer and allow the research, backed by funding that Chancellor Katehi has helped to augment, to become commercial enterprises.
The event featured the presence of all five Davis City Councilmembers, both its Yolo County Supervisors, and Senator Lois Wolk. Only outgoing Assemblymember Mariko Yamada was not in attendance.
Did the chancellor really believe that the listeners at this event – both business and political leaders – would be assuaged by her assurances that she was not attempting to move things away from Davis, but rather seizing an opportunity to locate in Sacramento? Does she not understand that she is taking billions in investment and moving them across the river?
Does she not understand that, by pushing the World Food Center across the river to Sacramento, she is undermining UC Davis’ own brand?
Listening to the chancellor it is more clear than ever that the chancellor has made up her mind and now her efforts are focused on attempting to soften the blow.
And it was really a shame. One of the highlights of the luncheon was HM Clause, who sponsored the luncheon, and their CEO Matthew Johnston who articulated the vision of his company which chose to relocate its corporate headquarters in Davis to better develop his company’s relationship with Davis and UC Davis.
The company represents a key cog in the future, helping to develop seeds for vegetables and food across the world. It is a global company with 1800 worldwide employees, 120 of which are here. It represents both the present and potential of what Davis and UC Davis can bring.
And yet, at the same time, it is clear that the biggest university ventures are likely headed to the other side of the river. This is a huge blow and it comes at a critical juncture as Davis attempts to move forward with its part of the deal – providing space for startups and opportunity for growth for current companies.
—David M. Greenwald reporting