With family ties to the University of Missouri, I followed the protests that led to the downfall of the chancellor and university president rather closely. A lot of people in the wake were left to wonder how an administration could mishandle student protests and their root cause so badly that it would bring down the upper brass of a major university.
In February, when hundreds of black students protested a hate attack on the UCD campus, it seemed that the administration was on solid footing. They acted quickly and adeptly to defuse a potential bombshell. It seemed that a crisis was averted. But it was only temporary. The damage this time was self-inflicted by the chancellor.
The campus is clearly split on the issue of Chancellor Linda Katehi and her short list of transgressions, but a much deeper list of baggage is exemplified in the article Indicting Katehi by former ASUCD Senator Roman Rivilis.
Some of the pushback has focused on the protesters who have held the fifth floor of Mrak Hall for more than three weeks. A letter from students notes, “Some of us agree with the broader issues of the protesters like greater transparency and more dialogue between the students and campus administration. But we write to strongly condemn the tactics of the protesters…”
There are indeed some legitimate complaints here, and I was personally troubled by some of what I saw a few weeks back when I met with the protesters early on in the process. I chalked most of it up to lack of experience in handling the media and conducting a protest. We are still talking about young students and, unfortunately, even the best run protests need to crack a few eggs in order to be effective.
From my standpoint, they have been much more effective than anyone is giving them credit. At the forefront of their effectiveness is the fact that they have stuck with it for three weeks plus now. While other students are focused on their school work, these students are risking internal discipline and their futures for their principles.
While it is true that their numerical numbers remain small, the rally on Friday shows it has legs. Other groups have come forward, with support from faculty (mostly liberal arts faculty), to the ASUCD Senate, to labor groups, to alumni.
There has also been a strong counter push, as faculty and some students, most of them in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, have sided with the chancellor. As some have noted however, there are some very notable names that came forward in 2011 to side with the chancellor, who are not doing so now.
On Friday, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph Hexter sent out a communication to the faculty to “update” them on what happened.
He writes, “As you may know, about 150 protesters marched from Memorial Union to Mrak Hall today shortly before noon and held a rally on the building’s steps.” For comparison, the Bee’s covered suggested there were about 250 people out in front of Mrak.
He continued, “While the event had been advertised as a ‘press conference,’ the purpose of the rally was to express solidarity with the protesters who have been occupying the reception area outside the Chancellor’s office on the 5th floor.”
He writes, “After the rally, at the urging of speakers who addressed the crowd, many of the participants came into Mrak Hall, not only the first-floor lobby but all the upper floors, disturbing Mrak staff who were working by pounding on doors and walls and shouting loudly. Fortunately, there was only a short period of time when there were large numbers of protesters on the upper floors.
“More troubling, however, many of the protesters left extensive chalk graffiti throughout the building’s stairwells, on office doors, in Mrak corridors, in bathrooms, and on the building’s exterior walls and on the sidewalks. Later in the afternoon, a smaller number of protesters took it upon themselves to do their best to erase the earlier chalking on the interior of the building.
“As of 5 p.m., several dozen protesters remained in the reception area on the 5th floor and in the building lobby on the ground level. As on previous days, Student Affairs staff will monitor those who remain in the building after it is closed after the end of the business day.”
Once again, he says, “Chancellor Katehi has said repeatedly since the protests began that she would be willing to meet with the protesters to listen to their concerns and answer questions if the meeting could take place in an orderly and respectful fashion. So far, the protesters have not taken her up on this offer.”
However, for me, the more troubling aspect is that we are finally starting to get a glimpse of the underlying culture at UC Davis. Without the student protests, these voices that are starting to trickle forward in terms of anonymous emails, phone calls, and posts would have no voice and little attention.
For those who wonder why the Vanguard has always defended anonymous posts, it is precisely because there are situations where people would risk their professional careers or personal safety in order to bring out this information.
Yesterday we had two interesting posts that should be highlighted:
I am a faculty member from Engineering. People in my direct chain of command have sided with Katehi very vocally in the press (Davis Enterprise, Sacramento Bee). There are actually people in different Engineering departments who have been hand-picked hires by Katehi, and may report back to her: a short list includes her own husband, Spyros Tseregounis, a lecturer with security of employment, teaching Engineering in Ethics (ENG 190); Subhash Mahajan, a member of the National Academy of Engineers (NAE) hired at the age of 78 years ago, who is in Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and just received a retention package of $1.5 millions; Jerry Woodall, another NAE member, in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), who was hired against the vote of the ECE faculty. These people attend faculty meetings on a regular basis.
I am pretty much bullied into silence, my husband and I both work at UCD and we have two children. I have to be very careful with taking risks to my career.
I received the email about signing the letter in support of Katehi, and refused to sign it, I but did not have the courage to sign the letter against Katehi. Fortunately, some of my colleagues did. It is possible that they are not as intimidated, because they are not directly exposed to Katehi’s nepotism and do not have hand-picked Katehi’s cronies/relatives sitting two chairs down from them in their faculty meetings.
The climate on campus is toxic, and that is another consequence of Katehi’s stewardship.
As another UCD STEM faculty member, I completely concur with UCD_stemfaculty. There is a cohort of STEM faculty beholden to Katehi for all sorts of behind-the-scenes special deals and favors: doing little or no teaching, arbitrary over-turning of unfavorable promotion decisions, being appointed to Chancellor’s “special adviser” positions (including her husband), etc. The flip side to this is that faculty who are genuinely concerned about her poor judgement and ethical standards are afraid to speak up, for fear of punitive repercussions. I have been at UCD for many years, and am appalled at the inexorable erosion of transparency, fairness, collegiality, and dedication to scholarship and classroom education that the Katehi administration has inculcated. Through “leadership by example” she has caused the cancer of rampant greed and selfishness to infiltrate the faculty ranks.
Perhaps it is true, as another anonymous poster put it, “The mounting scandal surrounding Katehi is large enough that a dozen screeching manbuns with nose piercings are not necessary to maintain the momentum. Her indiscretions have caught the attention of lawmakers. In fact, that’s where the scandal broke in the first place. It’s at THAT level that this ought to proceed. Abiding these adult babies sets a precedent that I am not comfortable with.”
However, I would argue that, despite the early statements by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, without the continued pressure of the protests, this episode would have long since been put to bed. President Napolitano has said as much. Now as the space has been established for more to come out, it is not so clear.
What is clear is if people are willing to step forward and bear witness to what they see occurring, there is a chance to effect change.
—David M. Greenwald reporting