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