By Linda P.B. Katehi
If you have followed the news lately, UC Davis may seem like a tale of two communities.
Our university has evolved from a respected local institution to a regional powerhouse of teaching, learning and research — with a globally recognized record of excellence and innovation.
Since 2010, we have enrolled more California undergraduates than any UC campus. We’ve hit record levels for research grants and endowment. Many of our schools and faculty are recognized as the best in the world.
Forbes magazine recently ranked us number one on the planet for promoting women in science, technology, engineering and math. We have enrolled and hired more women and people of color than ever before.
Most important, we are advancing academic excellence while ensuring a quality college education remains affordable for Californians of all financial means. We are proud that more than half our undergraduates have their systemwide fees and tuition covered by grants.
By any measure, we are doing more to advance the fundamental mission of our public university ― and contributing more to California and the world ― than during any period in our history.
At the same time, the university’s identity has been shaken by a series of highly publicized missteps.
Some were my own doing. All occurred under my watch. For that, I sincerely apologize.
None of them should diminish the collective historic accomplishments of this university, but they have been a setback to our reputation and hard-earned prestige.
As chancellor, I’ve been proud to lead us through some of the university’s finest moments. And I take full responsibility for being at the helm during some of its most difficult days.
Responsibility begins with straight answers. Here are a few to some of the questions raised by the news media, our students and others.
Yes, our Office of Strategic Communications hired outside firms specializing in what is known as “search engine optimization.” Consultants were brought in after the highly regrettable 2011 incident when campus police used pepper spray on peacefully protesting students.
We also implemented a host of reforms, including an overhaul of our police department and a new, more patient approach to campus protests. You saw the results of those changes when a five-week-long sit-in by protesting students in our main administrative offices ended peacefully last week, without incident and on the students’ own volition.
But because of the importance of philanthropy to UC Davis and the need to make sure those searching for information about the university get a complete picture, we needed to do a better job telling the world about the university’s extraordinary achievements.
So we did what any organization in a similar situation would do ― we sought to strengthen our communications capabilities. We invested in key staff. We added $800,000 to our Strategic Communications budget to cover increased costs for health care and retirement benefits. Another $800,000 was allocated for new and existing employees to work on social media, web development, videography and news.
Finally, we also increased the Strategic Communications budget — still comparatively modest for a university of our size and reach — with a one-time, $1 million allocation for a statewide advertising campaign highlighting our contributions to California agriculture.
With guidance from outside consultants hired to train our new staff and help over the short term, we became more focused and strategic in telling the story of our extraordinary students and faculty.
And we were careful to make sure that none of the costs for consultants or the advertising campaign were paid from state General Fund appropriations or student tuition and fees.
In hindsight, we should have been more careful in reviewing some of the more unrealistic and ridiculous scope-of-work claims in the written proposals of our outside vendors. What might be accepted industry hyperbole in the private public relations world falls far beneath the high standards of a public institution of higher learning.
But I assure you: none of our communications efforts were intended — or attempted — to erase online content or rewrite history. At UC Davis, we live with the lessons of 2011 every day. We are a better university because of it. And we succeeded in providing the public with a fuller understanding of everything UC Davis has to offer.
Now, as we move forward, it is crucial that I and the university not just lament these mistakes, but learn from them.
In coming weeks, I will begin a series of activities to better engage with leaders and share best practices from other universities and respected organizations serving the public good. I will reach out to community leaders, asking them to help me find ways to better collaborate on projects that have a positive impact on the people we serve.
And perhaps most important of all, I will find new ways to connect with our students, make my office and activities more transparent and ensure that their voices are heard, just as we did with some of the reforms put in place after pepper spray.
To answer concerns from the greater Sacramento-Davis community, I will make myself available at a series of public forums and media events to answer any and all questions people have about these issues or our future.
It is my honor to serve as chancellor. I know I am not a perfect person. I am determined to achieve more progress for our students and faculty and do a better job serving this great university and the people of California.
UC Davis Chancellor Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi issued this statement on Monday, April 18