Sunday Commentary: Students Should Use This Moment to Press the System for Reform

mrak-hallThere 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

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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27 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    “Chancellors do not pick textbooks; that’s done by the faculty,” 

    “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.”

    I am seeing a basic inconsistency in the thinking of Ms. Napolitano reflected in these two statements. While it is true that chancellors do not pick textbooks, it is equally true that they are not directly involved in the academic performance of university students. They do not teach the classes and labs. They do not hold office hours or counsel students directly about their academic careers. These roles are filled by relatively low paid professors, associate professors, teaching assistants and academic counselors. So why is the Chancellor being credited for the work of others who are paid far less than she is ?

    Yes, if you see the value of the university only in terms of competition with other universities and/or as a money raising endeavor, then you could see Ms. Katehi as having been highly successful. If you see the role of the public university as being to attract foreign students with the financial benefits that their enrollment brings, then likewise, highly successful. But if you perceive the mission of the public university as first and foremost, the education of the students of California, then I think that one must come to the conclusion that she has been far less successful.

  2. Tia Will

    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.”

    I am fundamentally in agreement with this statement. I do not believe that in view of current university policy that what the Chancellor did would be sufficient to call for her to be fired. I do however feel that it is likely to be futile to try to “force” her to take their overall concerns “up the ladder”. I believe that it is clear that at the level f the chancellors, regents and Ms. Napolitano, I have a fundamental difference in view of what our public universities should represent. I feel that was made clear in Ms. Napolitano statements in which two of her primary objectives surrounding universities are with regard to competition and wealth accumulation.

    While these two objectives may well be appropriate for a private university, they should not be primary objectives for a public institution which in my view should exist for the benefit of our society as a whole, not for the benefit of those who are already extremely well compensated by the public. Research coming out of the university should be available to support the public good, not the financial good of individuals and sponsoring private corporations. While I am a big supporter of “moonlighting” as a means of sharing information, opening opportunities for underrepresented groups, providing examples of success in fields not typically pursued by specific groups of students, and mentoring, I see no reason at all for these activities not to be done on a volunteer basis as is typically done in medicine at the volunteer faculty level.

    However, this viewpoint is clearly not shared at the university leadership level. I doubt that taking these concerns up the ladder will do anything substantial to change the current thought about the role of the UC system as a profit generating engine for the leadership and their associates. However, it may worth a try as even putting forth an alternative perspective might nudge some to think about the issue differently.

    As for Chancellor Katehi, I believe her view to be so set and her priorities so aligned with her own personal financial and reputation gains that she would be unable to change her perspective this late into her career. We have seen these same kinds of judgement errors from her previously and I do not anticipate that this will improve given the range of issues over which she has chosen her own interests over those of the students. I doubt we will see her resign over this current controversy even though, in my view, that would be the most honorable course of action given her seeming inability to act consistently in the best interest of her primary constituency, the students.

     

  3. zaqzaq

    Tia wrote,

    “But if you perceive the mission of the public university as first and foremost, the education of the students of California, then I think that one must come to the conclusion that she has been far less successful.”

    Why?  The UCD administration sets the conditions for success in the classroom through hiring qualified instructors and providing the facilities.  Also she will be successfully increasing enrollment next Fall by 1,100 students who are supposed to be California residents.  This is in response to the increased number of foreign and out of state students in recent years.  The increase in out of state students was a financial one created in part by our state’s funding priorities which did not include the UC system.  Imagine if the money being spent on the joke of a bullet train were instead spent on education.  Many decades ago we spent more on the UC system than on our prison system.

     

  4. gunrock

    Expel any actual student involved.  Arrest any non-student.

    Their endless whining about petty nonsense is tedious.  The actual students who make up 99% of the campus neither share their views or appreciate the distraction.

  5. Tia Will

    zaqzaq

    Why?  The UCD administration sets the conditions for success in the classroom through hiring qualified instructors and providing the facilities”

    The “why” for me is very straightforward. Ms. Katehi does not interview nor hire these qualified instructors herself. Here she is accepting the credit ( and vastly more lucrative compensation) than is given to the people actually doing the work. As a society, we have accepted this as the model for private enterprise rewarding CEO’s at many, many times the amount with which we reward those actually performing the services or making the products sold by the company. This would not be my preferred model, but I accept that this is the model of our private sector. It should not, in my opinion, have ever become the model for our public universities.

    1. zaqzaq

      Tia,

      Under your logic with Katechi getting none of the credit for the academic success of the students then Trump bears none of the responsibility for the poor instruction at Trump University:)

  6. Tia Will

    gunrock

    Their endless whining about petty nonsense is tedious.”

    I agree with you that the students are choosing a suboptimal and disruptive venue for their protests.

    You and I certainly do not share a similar view of what constitutes “petty nonsense”.  For me the role of the Chancellor is, in part, the demonstration of exemplary academic, ethical, socially responsible behavior. As the head and public face of the University, she has the responsibility to model the highest of academic and ethical standards. I do not see her actions with regards to DeVry and the KAU as representative of high academic or ethical standards. Her failure to acknowledge and accept responsibility for these far less than optimal activities prior to being called out on them publicly suggests to me a breech of judgement and ethics which while it might be judged as rookie errors for a newly hired lecturer, can hardly be considered “nonsense” or “trivial” at the level of the Chancellor who is charged with setting the tone for the entire university.

  7. Frankly

    More and more the liberal-run education system and liberal-controlled government at all levels will harvest these types of unwanted returns.

    Create enough little monsters and they will eventually take down the big monsters.

    1. Frankly

      I don’t know, but the business of education is pretty much controlled by an army of liberals.

      It is really the training hive for the liberal collective.

  8. Alan Miller

    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.

    I think Janet is confused, we want her to step down for her poor decision to support Linda.

  9. Alan Miller

    Later, police would use Tasers and tear gas to prevent protesters from going onto I-80.

    Since 2011 I have been an outspoken critic of Katehi and the Pepper Spray action.  Those protesters on the Quad were just sitting there.  The pepper spraying was stupid and sadistic.

    However, if protestors are stupid enough to walk out onto a freeway, or stand on a railroad track, as a form of protest — taser and tear gas away to stop them.  That kind of protest action can get people killed.

    1. David Greenwald

      Depends on how you define success – they’ve managed to occupy the lobby of the chancellor’s office since Friday. It’s a small space, couldn’t fit more than 35 people comfortably anyway.

      1. Barack Palin

        Like I’ve stated before, UCD has a very small core of agitators so campus management and we as a city need to stop paying that much attention to them.

        1. David Greenwald

          Makes the 300 person showing a few weeks ago all the more impressive. Did you see the result of the walk through? Campus is too dark, everyone agreed.

        2. Barack Palin

          BTW, I was there today, completely different group of students from the one at the BLM march.  I’m not in agreement with your take.

          You and a whole 35 others.  WOW!

          I wouldn’t expect your take to be anything different.  After all this is an opinionated blog.

          1. David Greenwald

            Even if that’s true, there is nothing to say which direction an opinionated view must go.

        3. Barack Palin

          Even if that’s true, there is nothing to say which direction an opinionated view must go.

          LOL, well I would say your opinionated direction is mostly like a race driver, it makes left turns.

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