Student Went From Opposition to Support of Katehi

Chancellor Katehi
Chancellor Katehi

By Matthew Palm

This is the story of how I went from being a passionate “Fire Katehi” supporter to someone calling for the protest’s end. After a decade of being a student activist, I’ve seen how this ends — and it will not help us defend what is still “public” about this public university.

I used to be very enthusiastic about protests like the current one seeking the firing or resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. In fact, the cardboard cut-out of her that the protesters have been using in the media? I made it with some help, and I fronted the money for it last year for a previous protest on the rights of Palestinian students. The first night of Fire Katehi I bought $40 worth of food for the protesters.

But I can no longer support the protest. This change in perspective began when a staffer in Mrak Hall called me one night about 1 a.m. This staffer has done so much for so many students, including me. This staffer spoke of being harassed and stalked by some of the protesters. A few of us upset by this penned a letter calling for the protest to end. But I was afraid to publicly own up to it — especially to my “radical” colleagues who, like me, generally have never met a protest they didn’t like.

After Monday’s legislative hearing, it’s time to speak openly because the damage this is doing to the University of California’s reputation harms our status as a publicly supported institution.

I’ve been affiliated with the UC as an undergrad, alumni or grad student for a decade. As someone who has been a part of two tree sit-ins, two campus shutdowns and three building occupations — including one where I helped “negotiate” the release of administrators trapped in Kerr Hall, Santa Cruz’s administration building — I’ll argue that this will be the long-term impact of Fire Katehi, if anything:

Within a few years there will be appropriations fights over UC’s share of the state budget. President Janet Napolitano, Katehi and the “tools of management” (what a few Fire Katehi folks call ASUCD/Graduate Student Association types) will be lobbying hard to retain our public funding.

The self-proclaimed revolutionaries at Fire Katehi will not be present. I know many of them enough to know they find mainstream politics “naive,” “counter-revolutionary,” “useless,” etc. And that’s OK. But I also know the talking points they argued at the state Capitol against Katehi on Monday will be used by reactionary politicians to justify further cuts to UC public funding.

The rhetoric of Fire Katehi will be used to encourage the very act of privatization itself that the protesters claim to oppose. All of this has happened before — at least three times since I first enrolled at UC Santa Cruz in 2006 — and all of this will happen again.

Unlike Fire Katehi, past protests also targeted actual politicians whose votes pushed the UC toward private funding, enabling then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff to admit that the protests shook Sacramento into withholding further cuts.

Fire Katehi most likely would counter with “But Katehi’s greed is the problem!,” as the protesters said directly to the Legislature. If all UCD executive administrators were fired and their compensation divided among our 32,000 students as tuition reduction annually, each student would save roughly 1.9 percent of their tuition, not including rent, food and health care. That’s it. I’ve made a Google doc explaining the math, at

But that doesn’t factor in the loss of fundraising dollars, and it also includes UCD Medical Center administrators who aren’t funded by main campus tuition anyway. So this is quite generous to Fire Katehi’s argument. In truth, it would be less than half that saved per student — and those savings would be more than wiped out by the loss of funds raised by these folks. Only 00.2 percent, a fifth of 1 percent, of UCD’s $4.3 billion budget would be saved.

There’s another reason why this needs to end beyond offering Fox News free talking points to bash UC. At some point, a staffer who is having a bad day is going to pass by the students. The students will start up with their usual pestering, and this person is going to snap and say something out of anger. The students, facing a taste of their own harassment-as-medicine, will cry “micro-aggression!,” “oppression!” or what have you. It will be filmed and played over and over again.

People will demand that the staffer be fired, without any concern for how hard this person actually may work to make this a great campus. Unfortunately, these outrage-inducing incidents are what these kinds of protests rely on for continued “momentum.”

This is why every encounter you see filmed on Facebook gets so nasty. This is why the posts are followed by a tiring string of comments declaring that whichever faculty/staff/administrator it was who they spoke to is no longer worthy of respect despite, in some cases, these people having accomplished careers devoted to justice, opening academia up to marginalized groups and groundbreaking scholarship.

So for those of us who do not think Firing Katehi is a necessary prerequisite to ending all the problems of the world, what are we to demand?

The chancellor needs to create, and Napolitano needs to respect, a committee of students, staff and faculty who have final say on what campus administrators can and cannot do as affiliates of external organizations. This is a good start. But I can already hear some familiar groans from the fifth-floor lobby in Mrak Hall.

“Change,” “accountability” and “justice” are a lot less sexy when you actually have to implement them. And when it comes to implementing the ideals of a public institution, Chancellor Katehi deserves credit. While it was wrong of her to take credit for the AB540 Center in legislative testimony, she does deserve some of the credit for the fact that 55 percent of the in-state students on campus pay no core tuition ($13,000 a year). And for this she has earned my respect.

She can continue to build goodwill with the community by consenting to staff, faculty and student oversight and regulation of administrators’ external activities.

Matthew Palm is a doctoral candidate in geography at UC Davis.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Alan Miller

    I hear the criticism of the protestors, it is not unlike other criticism.  What is not clear to me from this article is the author’s own personal change that caused him to find what he criticizes no longer acceptable to him.  Could the author expound?

    [ . . . and while he’s at it, maybe he can take a stab at what it means to ‘decolonialize our protest’.]

    1. Frankly

      ‘decolonialize our protest’

      Indications of a fine liberal arts education where there is really no need for critical thinking, only to adapt the ever progressive new vocabulary blaming (non-liberal) whites for everything wrong in the world.

      1. Alan Miller

        Leaving out the protestor view or the Frankly view, I am literally asking what the new vocabulary is with regard to the last paragraph of their letter.  It’s an interesting bunch of words, and I am calling them out for using inside vocabulary — my ask is that they explain it to those of us not familiar with the terms.

    2. Miwok

      Offered a “position”? “Research funds”? hmmm

      They buy off most of their most effective “protestors” and liability claimants, in order to protect themselves. After ten years of attending higher education, the author must be interested in a “Letter of Recommendation” to maybe find a job, if ever he wants or ever applies for one?

      After the Big Pepper Spray Incident, they made up a bunch of changes and new Committees were formed, and where were they during this process? Were they just empaneled to address any potential future occurrences of Occupy Protestors only?

  2. The Pugilist

    I’d like to see an objective evaluation of what the strengths and weaknesses of Katehi are.  I can see strengths, but I think the fire movement is being too easily pigeonholed into the immediate transgressions rather than a broader view that would see those transgressions placed within a broader framework of problematic decisions.

    1. Miwok

      What ever actions of proof you need, for me after the Occupy Sprayings, and the internal memos I saw from 2010-2015, where the income stream for UCD is being addressed by the emphasis on getting more income, with out of state students, to the detriment of State Students, makes it for me a moot point.

      Are you FOR the Students of this State getting access, or will this be more like Stanford, a private institution? Let me mention a base explanation WHY they want to go in this direction: They want the prestige, and power, not to mention less public oversight of their salaries.

      Katehi and others in the system are always comparing themselves to other institutions, and when they see Condoleeza Rice, who they consider inferior to themselves, paid more, they try to scheme ways to get there. Many of the faculty are just like her.

      1. DavidSmith

        The root cause for getting more out of state students is that the State of California is not funding the UC. On top of that, UCD is getting dis-proportionally small funding from the UCOP even though it admits more students than any other UC campuses. It’s so simple to see where you should direct your anger to — the fagots sitting in the state senate and UCOP office.

  3. ssc

    The role of the Chancellor is to act as the figurehead and public face of the university, as an institution dedicated to the generation and transmission of knowledge for the betterment of society and elevation of the human condition. As such, the individual should command the respect and trust of the whole university community, and society as a whole, for impeccable ethical standards and judgement, for invariably placing the greater good over selfish considerations, and for honestly representing the value of education and research to society.  How can society trust the quality of research and education that a university offers, when the figurehead trips up on multiple occasions regarding conflicts of interest, nepotistic appointments, poor judgement in handling student issues, favoritism among the faculty, etc, and never seems to learn from these mis-steps? A principled person, in such circumstances, would offer to resign and perhaps thereby earn back a fraction of the trust and respect that has been casually trashed. The reputation of UC Davis has been irrevocably soiled by the Katehi administration. There is no short-cut to earning trust and respect: they require years of patient devotion. The past several years illustrate, on the other hand, that they can be demolished in short order by arrogance and selfishness. Is it really credible that the leader of a major public university could be unaware of the predatory and unscrupulous nature of an outfit like DeVry University? Would “lapse of judgement” be considered an acceptable excuse for a student caught cheating on an exam, or a professor found to have doctored research results? If the university is to have ethical/moral standards, they should be uniformly applied, from the lowliest freshman to the loftiest heights of the administration.

  4. tribeUSA

    Re: ssc–“The role of the Chancellor is to act as the figurehead and public face of the university, as an institution dedicated to the generation and transmission of knowledge for the betterment of society and elevation of the human condition.”

    It seems we have progressed in a certain direction, at least as far as the university mission–perhaps the university mission statement that more accurately reflects the present and near future is “an institution dedicated to training the neophyte in procedures that will be immediately useful to the multinational corporations that will employ a large fraction of them, for the betterment of shareholder value and executive compensation, and molding of the young units of human resource into compliant technoserfs” We can evaluate the character of the chancellor in light of this progress that has been made in redefining the de facto mission of the university.

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