Public university administrators are not protected by limited liability when their actions serve only to graciously compensate themselves.
By Roman Rivilis
Students came back to administrative chambers to create a space of occupation once again. Embracing the legal privileges of being the chief executive of a public university, Linda Katehi batted an eye at the students occupying her front door, continuing to move to her next meeting. Later during the week, she sent out an email to the entire UC Davis community, plainly identifying herself with a strategic appeal to authority: “As a woman and a STEM scholar, my service has helped to correct the chronic lack of diversity on a number of boards.” Her restrictive overture in defining her identity as a woman in STEM breeds a more insidious form of sainthood, blending a paternalistic plea for diversity with nominally progressive language. As a result, Chancellor Linda Katehi’s vast litany of false virtues transcends word of mouth; it is now observable by every student without the context of her history.
Never mind this progressive posturing when in cases of sexual violence, Katehi prioritized the specter of lawsuit before the safety of survivors. In one such Title IX case, Katehi responded to an anonymous student in the presence of an attorney, “we have to be careful not to get sued.” The summer before in 2015, she penned an article in the Huffington Post, zealously pledging “not to rest until sexual violence disappears from our campuses and communities.” This dualistic continuity does not begin with her time at UC Davis.
Most notably, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign waded through a scandal in May 2009 involving what was known as a “clout list” – an admissions category of roughly 800 students connected to politicians or affluence that were admitted despite lower performance. Katehi’s involvement in this scandal, as the provost at the time, pegs her long track record of refusing accountability. Katehi was included in 14 of the 1,800 documents, continuing to plead that she had no involvement in the admissions process, and was not made aware of the emails that surfaced. This protocol of quiet complicity never fades away; instead of demanding a conscientious rebuke of her own participation as well as that of her colleagues in corrupt admissions practices, she insulates herself entirely from any wrongdoing in an effort to wipe the slate clean upon her new role as Chancellor.
2009. The Regents of the University of California heralded a tuition hike of 32%, prompting organizing spaces in University of California campuses to resist suffocating rises in costs of attendance. Students fought back. At UC Davis, students occupied Mrak Hall, a tower where the highest level of university administrators reside. 51 students and a faculty member that participated in the occupation were all arrested. 51 of those 52 saw charges dropped against them. Katehi’s term at UC Davis began.
In 2011, students filled the wide expanse of the Memorial Union quad in solidarity with the Occupy movement. Chained to one another as law enforcement approached, several students were viciously bear maced by Lt. John Pike. Shedding herself of any blame, Chancellor Katehi defaulted to misdirection rhetoric and claimed that Officer Pike went against her orders, a statement obscuring the burden on her authority to lead and manage all efforts to respond to protests. Prior to this incident, Katehi served on an advisory panel in December 2010 which terminated a longstanding asylum law in Greece that prevented police from intruding upon college campuses. The two events, however separate, inextricably connect to one another on contextualizing Katehi’s protocol with student movements. This blatant use of force may not have been by a weapon in her hand – but it was by her orchestrating the incident that we see the responsibility trickle up to her. That’s because her weapon was the utility of executive authority, and Lt. Pike was only one of the instruments at her disposal.
Then we see Chancellor’s service to the board of John Wiley and Sons from 2011-2014. John Wiley and Sons, known to cartelize the market with marked up sale prices for its textbooks, is also the vendor that the UC buys into the most for its textbooks. Wiley and Sons comprises 6.3% of the entire UC Davis market share for textbook publishers. In winter quarter 2016, 49 courses used textbooks from Wiley and Sons, and 3,497 students in total enrolled in courses using these textbooks. Over the span of her three years of service at Wiley and Sons, Katehi received $421,215 for her patronage. This amount includes return on stocks from the publisher.
A price-fixing scheme based on textbook purchases went directly to Katehi’s pocket; this blatant abuse of monopoly is one in which we define as rent-seeking, entirely dependent on the students feeding into her windfall. The mathematics cannot be twisted; if we are to reclassify Katehi’s role as a private executive, this would be considered profit, but as a public employee, this is nakedly disguised looting and fraud from thousands of students.
Her crime never ended there, either. In the campus-wide email Katehi sent out on March 17, she mentions the following:
“I will establish a $200,000 scholarship fund for California undergraduate students at UC Davis from my Wiley stock proceeds.” Never mind that she still profits from half of those proceeds, keeping them pocketed into her salary. Perhaps, most egregious, however, is the use of a private monopoly to compensate her highway robbery. Serving on the board in the first place is a clear conflict of interest by siding with private interests at the expense of students, but the Chancellor takes it further with a bribe with textbook sale funds, committing a total erasure of history and soothing her own private interests with a false revisionist narrative of charity.
To pour salt on the wounds, she audaciously proposes that, “my work on the board had no impact on UC textbook purchases.” Speaking strictly from looking at the market economics, being a part of the top 50% of the market share is a strong position for publishers to mark up prices; which is exactly the case of Wiley and Sons, rendering the Chancellor a quiet participant in legitimizing the price-fixing of the private sector. All at once, the twin crimes of bribery and deception are at play, all for the sake of marketing.
Her charity does not add up to her history. Katehi recently accepted an appointment to the board of directors on the DeVry Education Group, providing her with an additional salary of $70,000, in addition to $100,000 in stock options. DeVry recently fell to an enforcement action by the Federal Trade Commission, which investigated the for-profit education board’s use of advertising to boldly deceive its consumers about their earnings and job security after enrolling in its programs. After eight days of appointment, Katehi stepped down as a result of public pressures, later suggesting in email that her directorship “did not comply with UC policy,” a statement dubiously grounded when given the fact that UCOP approves all appointments to governing boards external to the UC. By this token, we can argue that if it did go against UC policy, it’s a count of malfeasance in office. If it did not violate UC policy, and it served Katehi’s private interests, then the term on DeVry was a fraudulent one by virtue of her testimony.
Katehi continued to moonlight on the board of King Abdulaziz University from 2012-2013. KAU is most notorious for its recruitment practices, which include monthly compensations of $6,000-7,000 on top of free stays in five-star hotels in Saudi Arabia in order to inflate the rankings of the university. The purpose of its recruitment is to attract those in academia with the highest citations so that they may serve as adjunct faculty for the university. Katehi defended her role in this process by claiming that she was “unpaid” and “did not participate in any meetings.”
When no profit can be generated from service on governing boards, the other reward to digest is deeper connections, all similarly wealthy to one another. Some of the noteworthy colleagues on the same board include E. Gordon Gee, the former president of Ohio State University, who before retiring in 2013, was awarded nearly $6 million by the university on top of a $802,125 salary and a compensation package valued at $1.6 million.
Katehi’s narrative logically does not add up: she claims to not have attended any meetings, but her term on the board was still authorized and she even stated her purpose: “My goal was to increase student diversity.” In what capacity has she increased diversity on a board she never attended? Moreover, what does she define as diversity in the context of her appointment? The answer is this: She did not mention diversity until now. It was never her goal. Katehi casually skipped an instance of fraud on her record and gently enabled the university’s deceptive recruitment practices, reminiscent of her denialist perspective on the admissions practices of UIllinois. And just like UIllinois, she conveniently disengages from any ethical posturing; she just escapes when it serves her to do so.
When embarrassments happen, political gestures of politeness and compromise are de riguer. Instead of accepting responsibility, the Chancellor bloviated in order to distract anyone from reading between what she actually wanted everyone to know.
Methodical politesse and institutional failure are not mutually exclusive; they are two sides of the same coin. When downtrodden by visibly irresponsible behavior, Chancellor Katehi takes the familiar approach of satisfying the moral high ground with her personal achievements, in order to mask political obscurantism. Some may say that her attempts to bolster her marketing are an act of genuine dedication to the student interest, but these illusions invite more dangerous forms of complacency. To couch one’s rhetoric in embrace of the reality that the university administration is unassailable and instead must reprieve with better marketing and outreach is little else but a tacit endorsement for the crimes they committed.
Making matters worse, Katehi’s behavior is entirely sanctioned and civilized by the Regents – because it caters to the entire compensation scheme that keeps her salary competitive. Regents Policy 7707 enumerates that additional benefits are given to senior management positions in the university, such as the Chancellor, by associating “with external educational and research institutions, not-for-profit professional associations, federal, state and local government offices and private sector organizations.” When Katehi discusses UC policy, those “private sector organizations” she glosses over the consequences of are just a part of business in the UC. Instead of publicly denigrating any thinly veiled racketeering done in part to line the Chancellor’s income, UCOP can only respond as though this is “unfortunate,” not that this is a “crime.” That type of public consciousness has no place in service to corporate boards that, as the policy describes, “may provide a stimulus for economic development and enhanced economic competitiveness.”
This trail of wayward shadows follows the Chancellor at every step, revealing that her history of malfeasance started far before her tenure at UC Davis. If we are to understand the genus of the public university administrator, then one of its species – the corporate executive – must strive for extinction. The students, lined up in assembly line to pay tuition into the waste economy created by Chancellor Katehi’s attempts at rent-seeking, should be the ones to lead the vision of the Chancellor’s replacement. In this process, we must find the species forgotten in time: the leader of the public interest. If the public is to set the standard for what university leaders should be, then the decision to indict Linda Katehi in a court of law for her crimes must be seriously considered.
Roman Rivilis is a former ASUCD Senator