There is no doubt that UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi is a polarizing figure. She was controversial among activist students long before her recent controversies emerged into public life. Since Friday, between 35 and 50 students have been “occupying” the fifth floor of Mrak Hall.
The Vanguard has been covering protests for nearly ten years now at the university. The university has gotten a lot better at handling them. In 2007, protesters occupied Mrak Hall in a protest over the privatization of food service workers. They would end up being arrested during business hours for trespassing – an illegal arrest that ended up being thrown out by the courts.
Later, police would use Tasers and tear gas to prevent protesters from going onto I-80. The aggressive tactics culminated in November 2011 with the pepper spraying of seated but peaceful protesters on the MU Quad. That action drew national attention and put Chancellor Katehi on the spot.
Since then, UC Davis has changed its tactics. The university has allowed the protesters to sit in Mrak Hall. The protesters have gotten their news coverage. And, most likely, at some point the protesters will grow tired and go home. Or at least that is what the officials are hoping.
The protest makes for good theater and good news coverage. But the problem is that it is not causing any hardship for those who are the decision makers. The people who work on the fifth floor of Mrak Hall do not have any say over the hiring and firing of the chancellor. That is up to the regents and President Janet Napolitano.
For her part, President Napolitano has expressed concern about the chancellor’s actions, telling reporters and editors at the Bee that she was “concerned” when she first heard about it. She said that, while the chancellor had turned in paperwork “to allow her to assume the DeVry Education Group board seat,” the chancellor did not receive her permission.
“I did not think DeVry was an appropriate board for one of our chancellors to be involved in,” Ms. Napolitano told the Bee. “I didn’t think it was appropriate for the University of California’s reputation to be linked with DeVry.”
However, the president was not concerned about the chancellor’s position with the textbook company, Wiley & Sons. She said that was approved by the Office of the President and that she “doesn’t consider it a conflict of interest.
“Chancellors do not pick textbooks; that’s done by the faculty,” she said. “And, quite frankly, I think having someone who’s involved in university life and … being at the board table when issues about textbooks are being discussed, I don’t think that’s a bad idea.”
The president concluded that, while this was a mistake that will be factored into the chancellor’s performance review, she doesn’t believe calls for her resignation are appropriate.
Ms. Napolitano told the Bee that she considered Linda Katehi a good chancellor and that “her resignation from UC Davis would hurt the campus.” “It’s not easy to find replacements for good chancellors, and she is a very good chancellor,” Ms. Napolitano said.
“When you look at the performance of Davis academically, when you look at it competitively, when you look at money raised, all the kinds of things that benefit a campus, she’s been a very good and effective leader,” Ms. Napolitano added.
Not everyone agrees with the president, but the president along with the regents are the deciders here.
Chancellor Katehi apologized for her actions in a letter to the UC Davis community. She explained, “My acceptance of the position on the DeVry Education Group board of directors did not comply with UC policy. I made an error in accepting it. I take full responsibility for that error, and I have resigned from the board.”
But she never explained, other than the violation of UC Policy, what her error was. She simply stated, “I accepted the position because I believed I could help DeVry better evaluate its procedures for delivering a sound curriculum and for measuring students’ performance and progress post-graduation. Nevertheless, I apologize for my mistake and the distraction this has caused for our university community.”
On the other hand, she defended her service on the John Wiley & Sons board, which she said complied with UC Policy (a point that President Napolitano confirmed).
She vowed her commitment to UC Davis, which she called a “great university,” saying “I will establish a scholarship fund for disadvantaged California undergraduate students at UC Davis from my Wiley stock proceeds.”
Still, while the chancellor apologized, the Vanguard continues to question her judgment on these matters. It would have been one thing had she served on the Wiley & Sons board with no compensation – however, she received over $400,000 for her services there, on top of her lucrative salary as chancellor.
It is little wonder that students are protesting her actions and calling for her to resign or be fired. Under her watch – and this is not really the fault of the chancellor – college has increasingly become unaffordable for students and middle class families. The gap between the chancellor and other top administrators’ pay and those of the low-wage workers has only become more pronounced.
To make matters worse, the textbook industry has increasingly come under fire. As student protesters noted, “They profit off of the excessive cost of supplies for college students, however as chancellor of UC Davis, Katehi should be concerned that the cost of textbooks is burdensome to students.”
Issues of cost, tuition, housing, student loan debt, and textbook costs are all mounting for students, and the university is only one cog in that system, but it is an important one.
The crime here by the chancellor is that these efforts appear to line her own bottom line at the very time when the students and faculty need her the most.
The students’ demands are simple, “We are not calling for Katehi to resign because the decision is not hers. We are calling for her to be fired because we think that the students and workers of the UC should have a say as to who runs our university. We demand that whoever replaces Katehi should be selected and approved by the UC labor unions and UC students.”
While it is quite obvious that right now the chancellor is neither going to resign nor be fired, it is clear that something has to change.
Instead of calling on the firing of the chancellor, the students should consider using this moment to force the chancellor to take their overall concerns up the ladder to the regents and the legislature. Issues of low-wage earners, cost of tuition, costs of textbooks, housing and student debt can be put on the agenda to be addressed.
The students have the attention once again of the community – they should use that voice to force positive change for all students.
—David M. Greenwald reporting