A few weeks ago the Vanguard opined that the initial controversy involving Linda Katehi’s service and compensation on for-profit educational boards, along with a textbook company, was not likely to result in her resignation or dismissal. Instead, we believed it would take new revelations and a second outrage.
Revelations published on Wednesday by the Sacramento Bee that UC Davis spent over $175,000 to remove references to the pepper spray incident from the web, along with its use of more than $5 million in communications money, has certainly caught the attention not just of the region, but in publications like the Washington Post, across the country.
Will this be the catalyst for a new phase in this ongoing story? Too soon to tell. But the Bee story induced three more Democratic lawmakers to call for the chancellor to resign. Assemblymen Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, and Mark Stone, D-Monterey Bay, join previous calls by Luis Alejo, Lorena Gonzalez, Evan Low, and Kevin McCarty, who had asked her to resign after the initial revelations about DeVry and her involvement with the textbook company.
Assemblymembers Gatto and Rodriguez posted their calls on Twitter:
Spend millions on PR while student costs soar? It is time for Katehi to resign. @dianalambert
— Mike Gatto (@mikegatto) April 14, 2016
— Freddie Rodriguez (@AsmRodriguez52) April 14, 2016
In a follow up, Assemblymember Gatto noted, “Her serving on the board of textbook companies was sufficient enough grounds, but her recent article detailing large and questionable PR expenditures cemented it in the minds of many.”
In a follow-up statement, Assemblymember Rodriguez said, “Chancellor Katehi’s decisions have raised serious questions about her ability to lead UC Davis and represent the University system. The University of California campuses should be making decisions that serve the best interest of students, not executives.”
Assemblymember Mark Stone chairs the Assembly Judiciary Committee. The Legislature is currently considering the UC Budget and the Assemblymembers find it “very disturbing to hear that a Chancellor has been spending precious public resources on a PR campaign to obfuscate questionable decisions. Clearly it is time for Chancellor Katehi to move on.”
However, one thing we have learned from this latest series of stories about the university is that UC remains very insular from the influence of the legislature. Last month, after an audit report exposed the UC system for benefiting out-of-state students over California residents, it took $25 million in funding to convince UC to add 5000 in-state students to the current enrollment.
On Monday, a small but determined group of students marked their one-month anniversary of their sit-down protest at Mrak Hall. On Thursday, the Vanguard was unable to get a response from the students to the newest revelations.
However, UC Davis put out a lengthy statement in response to the national coverage of the Bee’s original reporting:
“Communicating the value of UC Davis is an essential element of our campus’s education, research, and larger public service mission. Increased investment in social media and communications strategy has heightened the profile of the university to good effect.
“As part of this overall communications strategy, it is important that the excellent work underway at UC Davis with respect to educating the next generation of students, pursuing groundbreaking research, and providing important services to the State is not lost during a campus crisis, including the crisis that ensued following the extremely regrettable incident when police pepper-sprayed student protesters in 2011. Communication efforts during this time were part of the campus’s strategic communication strategy. In fact, one of the main objectives during this time was to train staff on how to effectively use digital media to improve engagement with our stakeholders.
“Communicating the value of UC Davis is among the many reasons why our campus was able to increase its endowment to $1 billion last year, garner more than $700 million in research grants, and attract the highest caliber of students and faculty from around the country, with a record number of student applications this year.
“Most of the growth in the communications budget is tied to raising the visibility of our College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the School of Veterinary Medicine, both rated the best in the nation.
“In a 2014 Chronicle of Higher Education Report titled, “Higher Ed Marketing Comes of Age,” the mean amount that universities spend on marketing was reported as $3.7 million, with the highest at $25 million. We believe UC Davis compares favorably with other institutions of higher learning. Communications spending represents a small fraction of the $4.3 billion operating budget of UC Davis.”
The new revelations come just a week after the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board joined others in calling for the students to stand down.
As the editorial put it, “Katehi certainly erred, as she acknowledged to lawmakers at an oversight hearing on Monday. Lending the University of California’s legitimacy to a for-profit college in exchange for a $70,000-a-year board seat was a cringeworthy lapse in judgment.”
This error, they acknowledged, was “magnified” when it came out that she joined other questionable boards, including the college textbook vendor.
The editorial writes, “But Katehi has now been apologizing for more than a month. And while time will tell whether her stewardship has worked well for UC Davis, it’s past time for the students to end the demonstrations they’ve staged since March 11.”
But, as we now see, the protests and movement against the chancellor go far deeper than the simple scandal that was brought to light.
As we said at the time, if the chancellor is going to lose her job, it will be based on some secondary issue that we are not aware of to date. This is where I think the Sacramento Bee is missing the bigger picture.
For the last few weeks, the Vanguard has been receiving three or four anonymous tips a day on the chancellor and the university. Not every tip pans out. Some are far-fetched and unlikely. Some are unprovable.
But the picture that is beginning to form is not necessarily a good one. The Vanguard is still waiting on its records requests.
Will these latest revelations be enough to change the game here? Too soon to tell for sure. But any time you have three additional legislators calling for resignation, President Janet Napolitano and the UC Regents better be paying attention.
The question will be how much is critical mass – clearly, we are not there yet.
—David M. Greenwald reporting