Analysis: Chancellor Katehi Remains a Controversial Figure

Chancellor Katehi addressing students in front of Mrak
Chancellor Katehi addressing students in front of Mrak

While Assemblymember Kevin McCarty made headlines last week calling for the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi after revelations she has served on the board of the for-profit educational institution, DeVry, along with the textbook publishers, Wiley-Blackwell, his counterparts in the state Senate, Richard Pan and now Lois Wolk, have stopped short of calling for her resignation.

In a press release on Monday, Senator Wolk issued a statement, “These are very serious issues that jeopardize the reputation of the University of California and go beyond one chancellor, involving many in high leadership positions at the university. These issues need to be thoroughly reviewed and policies revised. Chancellor Katehi is working to restore the confidence that has been lost.”

However, she said, “At this time, I believe calls by some for her resignation are premature. The Legislature, including our Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education chaired by Senator Marty Block, will be reviewing the University of California and California State University systems’ policies on outside employment by executive management and I expect will recommend changes that should include greater transparency and scrutiny on all outside positions.”

Student groups are not as forgiving. Many have not forgiven the chancellor for the 2011 pepper spray incident, nor have they forgotten the student tuition hikes or what they see as the movement toward the privatization of the university.

Students on Friday will hold a “#FireKatehi” rally, stating, “Some Sacramento politicians are calling for her resignation, but that ultimately frames this as her decision. We are calling for her to be fired because it should be up to UC students and workers to decide who runs our university.”

They add, “We also demand that her replacement be selected and approved by UC labor unions and students.”

In 2011, when the pressure was on the chancellor to step down in the wake of the pepper spray incident, a group of esteemed faculty members stepped up to support her. However, in conversations with the Vanguard, a number of those professors are reluctant to defend her latest actions, noting the poor judgment and the apparent greed behind her moves.

They point not just to her lucrative salary, but to the fact that she also holds millions in patent rights from her academic work.

However, that position is not universally held. In an op-ed in today’s Davis Enterprise, Professors Deb Niemeier and Thomas Beamish point out that UC has a standing policy, Regents Policy 7707, that “actually encourages UC’s senior managers to consider such outside activities.”

The policy states, “… Considerable benefit accrues to the University from Senior Management Group (SMG) members’ association” with outside entities like other “universities, non-profits, federal, state and local governments and the private sector.”

They note that in 2010, “nearly one-third of higher education managers served on the board of a for-profit corporation.”

They write, “It was somewhat curious to read UC President Janet Napolitano’s public statement, in which she appreciates Chancellor Katehi taking responsibility” for “having accepted board positions that created an appearance of conflicts of interest with her University responsibilities …”

They add, “Given that the UC president must approve all requests for senior managers to sit on a board, it is dismaying that she didn’t think there might be a conflict of interest before she approved Katehi’s request. Nor does she mention that in 2014 alone, she approved board position requests for well over 100 senior managers, among them the vice president of research at the Office of the President, the chief executive officer at UC Irvine, the executive vice chancellor and provost at UC San Francisco, the vice chancellor for research at UC Riverside and the vice president and general counsel at the Office of the President.”

They argue that, instead of focusing on Chancellor Katehi’s actions, we need to acknowledge that she is being criticized for “what has been a completely normal practice.”

Instead, they argue, “we should be asking how it is that this practice has become so normal. Over time, university budgets have been radically reduced by states at the same time that the costs of education and research have risen precipitously.”

Universities have become “quasi-private institutions” that end up acting as corporations, while “public expectations remain strong that universities also pay homage to not-for-profit principles and maintain their open, public atmosphere.”

While many have defended the chancellor on the grounds that her vision for the university has pushed things forward, James D. MacDonald, a professor emeritus in the department of plant pathology at UC Davis, argues in an op-ed today that the chancellor is taking credit for work that, in many cases, was begun by others.

He writes, “While people may choose to support the chancellor because of her perceived accomplishments, it’s important that those accomplishments be reviewed in the light of all the facts.”

Indeed, the university celebrates the fact that UC Davis has become the first California university with two schools rated at the top of their field in the nation, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Professor MacDonald notes that, while the Veterinary Medicine school “lost its accreditation in 1998, largely because of the school’s antiquated facilities,” it was Dean Bennie Osburn and Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef who worked together to put the school back on the path to health.

He writes, “The school’s accreditation was regained in 2005 with the development of a $354 million building campaign that recently drew to a close, leaving the school with state-of-the-art facilities. Their hard work led to the school’s top ranking and yes, that ranking occurred during Katehi’s term as chancellor, but it is really the result of their decade-plus efforts and cannot fairly be claimed as an accomplishment by Katehi.”

He notes, likewise, about the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, “the college has long been in the top ranks of agricultural and environmental programs. Yet, as UCD’s oldest college, it, too, suffered from being in terribly antiquated facilities.”

He cites the work of Neal Van Alfen, appointed dean in 1999, who “listened to the concerns of faculty and set out on a 14-year effort, working with Chancellor Vanderhoef and outside donors, to develop state-of-the-art facilities such as the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Sciences, as well as renovations of Robbins Hall, Hutchison Hall, Hunt Hall and many more.”

He adds, “It was Dean Van Alfen who worked with the chairs of the departments of agronomy, vegetable crops, pomology and environmental horticulture to facilitate their merger into the largest, most talented and powerful department of plant sciences in the world.”

Professor MacDonald notes that “as thanks for Dean Van Alfen’s leadership accomplishments, Chancellor Katehi decided to launch a search to replace him two years before the scheduled end of his term, a move that compelled him to resign. Thus, I find it quite ironic to see her claim the high ranking of the college as an accomplishment of her own.”

He said that when Dean Van Alfen was forced to resign, “I lost complete confidence in her judgment and her administration, so I, too, resigned.” He continues, “I feel that the recent events demonstrate that her professional judgment remains a continuing concern.”

Obviously this is a complex situation, and Professor MacDonald offers just one perspective. But it continues to suggest that Chancellor Katehi remains a polarizing figure inside and outside of the university. We continue to wait for the next shoe to fall here.

At some point, UC President Napolitano will have to make the call regarding her reappointment. Meanwhile, the public eyes are on the chancellor and the pressure will continue to mount.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Barack Palin

    “We also demand that her replacement be selected and approved by UC labor unions and students.”

    Even though I agree that Katehi may need to go no way should labor unions and students determine who her replacement should be.

    1. David Greenwald

      Determine or have a say? I view those as different things. And yes, I realize that the students said they want to select and approve. I don’t agree with select, but approval and buy-in from stakeholders is important.

      1. Barack Palin

        You know as well as I that the problem is the only students that will be heard are the activist groups on campus which in no way represents the entirety of the student population.

        1. Barack Palin

          That’s just it, it wouldn’t be a vote.  A vote would allow the entire campus to have a say.  The way it would likely turnout is just the crybullies being heard.

      2. Misanthrop

         “I don’t agree with select, but approval and buy-in from stakeholders is important.”

        But they aren’t demanding “buy-in” as stakeholders. They are saying they want to decide in apparent exclusion of other stakeholders including the Regents on whose board the Governor and other high ranking elected officials sit, UC administration and faculty.

        Making such a usurpatious demand demeans the seriousness of their action.

  2. Don Shor

    Students on Friday will hold a “#FireKatehi” rally stating, “Some Sacramento politicians are calling for her resignation, but that ultimately frames this as her decision. We are calling for her to be fired because it should be up to UC students and workers to decide who runs our university.”

    They add, “We also demand that her replacement be selected and approved by UC labor unions and students.”

    Which students? Obviously this is a statement from a particular group of student activists. We can’t really judge the extent to which they are representative of students overall if we don’t know who issued this statement. ASUCD?

    1. Barack Palin

      Which students? Obviously this is a statement from a particular group of student activists.

      I could guess which group and bet a beer that I’m right.

  3. Tia Will

    “Considerable benefit accrues to the University from Senior Management Group (SMG) members’ association” with outside entities like other “universities, non-profits, federal, state and local governments and the private sector.”

    This is doubtless a true statement. Organizations do benefit from collaborative efforts with other groups. However, this can be achieved without these individuals being paid by the outside entity. We do this on a regular basis in Kaiser. It is made clear when we hire on in a career track position with Kaiser that we are free to work for outside groups, but we cannot keep the money earned through these activities which instead goes to Kaiser. One might think that this would preclude doctors from participating ….. but it does not. Many of our doctors have chosen to work with outside groups either on a volunteer basis or as stipulated in our rules.

    Yesterday, on NPR, I was listening to a story about a Zika researcher who is making his study observations dealing with a pregnant primate exposed to the Zika virus available on line to all in real time. This is the epitome of a true scientific collaboration since he will obviously not be getting any patenting rights on any discovery made by his work which is available for all to see, critique, and use.  This was also the model used by some researchers during the Ebola crisis. I cannot help but think how much further along we would be scientifically if instead of exploiting the private profit motive, we were to work collaboratively on all scientific ventures. It is this collaborative model that should be being adopted, especially for our “public institutions”. I think that the single biggest failing of Katehi and those who are making fortunes at the “public university” is their failure to appreciate the word public and to choose profit and privatization over the public good.


  4. Tia Will


    A vote would allow the entire campus to have a say.”

    I think a vote of university employees and students would be an excellent idea in the form of an “advise and consent” vote. A candidate could be put forward in the usual way and then voted on by the above groups. This would be a true promotion of “democracy” at a public institution. In terms of teaching our young students how their society operates, and how their participation or lack thereof affects their future, I really cannot think of a better real world example with direct impact on them that they can clearly appreciate.

  5. SODA

    The article makes it sound like the UC President approved the deVry’s position but I thought from the earlier info that Katehi did not go through the proper channels for approval on that one and the UC President’s office declined to answer whether she had for the Wiley board position. True?

    I agree with Tia; these can be good opportunities as long as they are ethical and appropriate groups, do not take too much time and money is not involved (perhaps a per diem, etc). I believe Katehi has served on other academic or governmental groups in the past which would better fit these criteria and doubt they are highly paid. Do you know?

  6. Don Shor

    [moderator] Please discontinue use of the pejorative term ‘crybullies’. Per the Vanguard Comment policy: 

    Generic Insults. Pejorative references to any general class of people are strongly discouraged. The Editorial Board asks commenters to understand that general insults discourage the participation of others. They contribute to a negative tone and strongly suggest disrespect for the views of others. In some cases, general insults oversimplify the positions of others, which is detrimental to informed and respectful debate. General insults that are provocative are especially discouraged.

      1. Don Shor

        In the tool bar that appears above the reply box:
        you should see this:
        Click on that before you paste in the quoted text, then hit return, then click it again.

        1. Matt Williams

          SODA, on a phone you can type the 12 characters {blockquote} just before the text you want to put into the grey box, and then type the 13 characters {/blockquote} just after the text you want to put into the grey box.

          Then replace the two { characters with the left bracket that is the Shift-period key.  Then replace the two } characters with the right bracket that is Shift-comma key


    1. Alan Miller

      Please discontinue use of the pejorative term ‘crybullies’.

      I didn’t use the term and probably wouldn’t, but such a term doesn’t apply to any particular person.  The PC articles in the Vanguard regularly use left-wing terms that I find ridiculous and could find offensive if I chose to frame it that way.  Should such words also be banned?  Personal insults — of course, that’s another matter.

        1. Alan Miller

          BP, if you are OK with this, I’d like to come up with a joint short statement about this for the Vanguard editorial board for consideration.  If you have an email, or set up a gmail account, that is anonymous, you can stay anonymous if you wish  (though I rail about anonymity, my issue is only when it is used here as an excuse to hurl personal insults with no responsibility of source from the hurler, less so the anonymity itself.)  It you are OK with an email exchange or two, contact David for my email.

          1. David Greenwald

            Alan: I suggest you talk to Tia, she was part of the process when we created the rule. We had specific reasons for doing so that she can explain.

        2. hpierce

          BP, consider taking Alan up on his offer… there are some who only use the term “crybully” once in a literal ‘blue moon’… there are others who string as many ‘perjorative’ [or meant to be] adjectives together in a single sentence as they can… each word might be ok, but when strung together, frequently, it amounts to a case of semi-civilized “potty-mouth”.

          Audiences were ‘scandalized’ when Rhett Butler told Scarlet, “… I don’t give a damn“.  Yet, it captured the character’s “letting go”, much better than “… I really don’t care”.

          But, if I wrote, on frequent posts, “… and it’s due to the neo-nazi, crypto-fascist, privileged, elite, right wing ideologues”, [just for illustrative purposes], I’d quite likely either find “soul-mates” (I’d hope NOT), or be seen as being incapable of making a cogent point without resorting to invective.

          Let me know if you need a ‘third’ for the joint statement, Alan… Don has my e-mail, and I hereby authorize you to have Don share it with you.


  7. The Pugilist

    ” The way it would likely turnout is just the crybullies being heard.”

    Whenever you say these type of things, I think of the line from David Bowie: “And these children that you spit on – As they try to change their worlds – Are immune to your consultations- They’re quite aware of what they’re going through”

  8. Eileen Samitz

    It is interesting that Senator Wolk has spoken out in support of the Chancellor. I recently sent a long detailed letter to President Napolitano regarding the significant UCD  on-campus student housing shortage issue and asking for UC action to remedy this for many reasons including the welfare of the UCD students and our City as well. I also forwarded it to our local legislative representatives including Senator Wolk, the regents, City Council, City staff, and other state legislators working on state education issues. I look forward to Senator Wolk’s response particularly, and the other legislators on this, as well as President Napolitano and the other UC and UCD administrators including the Chancellor.

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