Following the up and down drama of Wednesday, Thursday was relatively quiet save for a relatively hastily called press conference to introduce Acting Chancellor Ralph Hexter to the media and community.
Mr. Hexter, who had been serving as Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, the number two person on campus, issued a brief statement and then took questions for about 20 minutes.
Ralph Hexter called this “a very unexpected development.” He said that “in many many ways it’s with a heavy heart that I take on the duties of acting chancellor in such circumstances.”
His statement read, “I intend to do all I can to be a strong and effective steward for UC Davis for our students, faculty, staff and for our extended community. Throughout my years as provost, I have been proud to be a part of tremendous positive momentum in key areas, including enrolling more undergraduate Californians than any other UC campus. I appreciate the kindness and encouragement of our diverse campus community. I ask for your continued support as we move our great university forward.”
The university highlighted three things about Acting Chancellor Hexter. First, he serves as distinguished Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature. Last week he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Finally, he’s a founding member of the LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education.
In response to reporter questions, he said, “I gathered with my collective staffs of my provost office and the chancellor’s office and we started doing some triage, just understanding the many buckets that we have to do.” He said he plans to appoint an acting provost “so that I can turn my attention to all the duties that a chancellor has to do to work with the students and take up all those issues.”
He said, “There are a number of issues on the desk,” and he said he and the staff will attend to those “in a timely fashion.” He said it will take a few days “to get fully up to speed.”
Ralph Hexter explained that he was largely in the dark about developments. He said he is sensitive about issues of transparency. He said, “Quite honestly, since I didn’t know myself until yesterday evening that I will be doing this, it would have been hard to say anything about that before.” He said he plans to be forthcoming and make himself available to students and the press whenever possible.
Later he explained that the President asked him to step up and take these duties on. He said, “It was more, you’re the provost, this falls to you.” He said the timing of the investigation is “entirely up to the President.” She has said that the investigation will take about 90 days. “I serve at her pleasure and I will serve for as long as she wants me to serve.”
He explained that he was “the next person in line, I am the number two to the chancellor. When the chancellor is away, if I’m here, I’m the acting chancellor even in her absence.”
He was asked how ready he was to take on this job. He explained that there are a number of things that he already knows because he has worked on them with Chancellor Katehi. “There are frankly some areas where I know less well because frankly the Chancellor has had her area and I’ve had mine.”
Ralph Hexter explained that he has actually been a college president previously, “which is somewhat unusual for a provost.” Prior to coming to UC Davis, he was President of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. “Of course a liberal arts college is very different from a research university, but I hope that once again I’ll prove how fast a learner I am,” he said.
Ralph Hexter indicated that there had been enough discussion that he had had to consider the possibility that he would have to step up to be acting chancellor. He said, “I didn’t expect that I would have to do it at this time.”
He added that yesterday was the first time he had a discussion about it with President Napolitano. He said he was not part of the discussions that had (happened), and added, “I was in many ways disappointed that this (happened).” He said, “I’m very sorry that our Chancellor has had to step down. I think Linda Katehi is a fantastic leader.”
He was asked if he disagreed with the President’s decision, and he said, “I didn’t say that.” He said, “I don’t have the materials that she does. I understand why she feels that this is the decision that she has to make.”
The Vanguard asked if the President had asked Linda Katehi to resign and he said he was unaware of the conversations between the Chancellor and the President.
Ralph Hexter said, based on his discussions with Chancellor Katehi, “I think that the Chancellor is herself clear that (it’s) only an investigation – she expects it will clear her name.”
He said, as he has read the material, “It is clear that the President with the support of the Regents believes that there is documentation that warrants investigation. I have not seen the documents.”
Mr. Hexter said that he believes that an investigation “always is a good thing because it brings things to light and if there are things that are wrong, you want to correct them.” He said, “I would not expect them to be systemic wrongs.” He added, “I think we’re never afraid of light being shown on what we’re doing – we’re public servants, if there are things that are not according to policy, let’s find out about them and correct them.”
He explained he was not privy to discussions in the Office of the President, so it is not clear how the office will view the results of the investigation. He said he believes that the audience for the results will be the Regents “because it’s the President who makes this decision but it’s certainly the Regents she has to share it with if she wants them to understand the actions that she takes.”
In the end, these are personnel actions and, as a result, there is a lot of “care taken as to what is shared.”
Ralph Hexter called Chancellor Katehi “a tremendous leader” and stated “she’s the reason why I came to Davis.” He said, “She has lifted up the university, it’s a great university. One of her great skills was to send the message both internally and abroad that we have so much to be proud of.”
He was hired by Chancellor Katehi and came to UC Davis on January 1, 2011.
Ralph Hexter was asked about the role of the protesters. He explained that they occupied a lot of “print space, time.” He said, “I certainly attend to their message – I think the issue of the privatization of the university is a real issue that we need to examine and consider.”
He said that, as public support for the university diminishes, we have to look for other funding sources.
He said, “I never thought of them as representing all of the students. I know that there was a tremendous number of supporters who by nature are more silent.”
“What I do know is that the occupation itself caused a tremendous amount of stress to the Chancellor but above all to the staff who work here. So I’m very grateful that we managed to have them leave of their own accord. That was a good solution,” he said.
He was asked questions about the student protesters and their distrust of authority. He said, “I think that questioning authority and distrusting authority is something that’s much more widespread than just our campus and just today. That actually seems to be one of the elements of the moment – we see it in our politics… That seems to be something we’re seeing everywhere.”
He said, “All I know how to do is to explain what I’m trying to do and what the institution is trying to do as clearly as he can. I hope that those who listen to those explanations will take them in good faith… and know us by our deeds.”
Ralph Hexter was asked he if he foresaw the possibility of an elected chancellor as the protesters called for. He bluntly said, “No, I don’t.” He explained that, while he is supportive of a student voice in the process, he thinks the complexities of the campus are too great for having an elected chancellor.
He also explained the issue surrounding sexual orientations, noting that in the early 2000s when he was a dean at UC Berkeley, “I was certainly aware that there was effectively a glass ceiling that made it very difficult for LGBT administrators to reach the position of president.”
“One of the things I was very proud of when I took the Presidency at Hampshire College was that the college was very very willing to make that a point of pride nationally.” At that point there were about a dozen lesbian or gay presidents, and after meeting informally, they formed the association in order to give more visibility and help spread the message to boards that they wouldn’t be the last.
“We are very proud that there are over 70 presidents now who are members of our group,” he said.
—David M. Greenwald reporting