It has been a month and a half since UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi was put on paid administrative leave after she refused to resign in late April at the request of UC President Janet Napolitano. Ms. Katehi is fighting back against allegations and a seemingly immovable UC bureaucracy.
She has retained attorney Melinda Guzman, herself a graduate of UC Davis and a former candidate for Davis City Council. On Wednesday, the Vanguard spoke to Ms. Guzman by phone.
“The April 27 letter (has) the allegations that supposedly supported this so-called independent and neutral investigation,” she said. “Each instance, we are contesting these allegations.”
She called the allegations, as laid out in the letter, “baseless,” calling them “issues that either already have been dealt with or were known.” She said, “The alleged whistleblower complaint was a whistleblower complaint that had existed for several years and had been dealt with not only at the campus level but by the UCOP that resulted in a November 2014 letter to the whistleblower informing him that there (was) no merit to his claim.”
“So for all this to be pasted into this letter as the basis for this paid administrative leave and then broadcast to the world in the manner in which it was – yes – we’re contesting that,” Ms. Guzman told the Vanguard.
Ms. Guzman also pointed out that, for an employee, this letter was “unprecedented” and breached her right to confidentiality. “In California, there are rights of privacy,” she stated. “The timing of the release is also unfortunate.” She noted that UC Davis faculty were hearing from UC Berkeley faculty “about the rumors that she had been placed on leave,” as were people in the Capital being told that she was being forced to leave.
She noted that the April 27 Sacramento Bee article that reported the administrative leave was stamped 2:47 a.m. online and that she didn’t get a call notifying her about this until 8:31 p.m. that evening. These leaks, Guzman said, “violate her right of privacy.”
Linda Katehi is now moving to file a grievance. “I served a grievance letter on May 26 to Charlie Robinson, General Counsel of the University of California. It complains in essence about Janet Napolitano and how she handled this entire personnel matter.”
The two spoke by phone last week. The grievance, according to this conversation, goes to her supervisor, Janet Napolitano, and she will review it. Guzman was told that the president would not do anything prior to the conclusion of the investigation. She responded, “In all instances when an employee complains about a supervisor, the grievance doesn’t go to the supervisor that you’re complaining about. It goes to the next level and here it should have gone to the Board of Regents.”
“The process with regards to that grievance is flawed from the very beginning,” she said. “I think it is time for the Board of Regents to step in.”
Melinda Guzman explained that she has had two sets of communications with UC about the investigation. One has been directed to the investigator. She said that she has had some communication with investigator Melinda Haag, where she “raised the question of conflict with regard to the Orrick firm.” According to Ms. Guzman, Ms. Haag never responded to those concerns.
The rest of the communications have been with regard to scheduling of an interview for Linda Katehi, where they have confirmed a couple days for an interview.
She has also had communications with the general counsel’s office. She attempted to get a copy of Ms. Katehi’s personnel file, which took three weeks. “I think it was a reasonable request,” she said, but “I had to contact the general counsel directly in order to get it.” She added, “I’m not sure I have the entire file, to be honest.”
Melinda Guzman questions whether Ms. Haag and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe are “independent and neutral.” “In this case, because Janet Napolitano, herself, has made herself a witness, and she has basically claimed that Linda Katehi has maybe misrepresented statements to her – she’s a witness.”
“So when the university announced that they have selected an independent and neutral investigator, they should have done what they said they were doing,” she said. Instead, they hired a law firm which has been a partner with them for years and they hired an attorney who has represented Ms. Napolitano when she headed up the Department of Homeland Security.
She clarified that they are not asking to be able to select an investigator agreeable to both sides. “I am asking for fairness and due process,” she said, by selecting someone without a preexisting relationship to the president. She said she wants “a fair investigation of the facts.”
Melinda Guzman told the Vanguard claims that the lack of cooperation on their part “is absolutely incorrect.” She reiterated their attempts to communicate with UC. She noted they identified two dates for Linda Katehi to be interviewed. “There’s no issue there,” she stated.
She argued that delays have been evident on the part of UC as well, noting again that it should not have taken three weeks to get Chancellor Katehi’s personnel file. There have also been exchanges on the conflict of interest issue that have not been resolved either – and they have not received a response to their most recent letter.
“If we could resolve those issues, (it) would trigger what might or might not happen with regards to the Orrick and Haag team,” she said.
There are also issues involving access to things like Katehi’s Apple iPhone, and Ms. Guzman alleges that there are attorney-client privilege and privacy issues there. She said that she sent a letter and the general counsel has not responded in 15 days to that communication.
“I absolutely challenge the notion that we have not been cooperative,” she stated. “No, there has not be a lack of cooperation at all.”
The question became what Ms. Katehi’s goal is in this process. Ms. Guzman responded, “The most important thing for Linda Katehi is her integrity.”
She explained, “I think everyone would agree, including the folks in Davis, that she brought many good things to the campus. Her reputation in the STEM sciences and in science and engineering, she raised the billion dollars or more two years in advance, (and) she’s a very reputable researcher with the 19 patents that she’s been involved in.”
“More so than anything else, she will tell you, ‘I can be poor,’ as she was in Greece, ‘but if I don’t have my integrity, I have nothing,’” she said. “Number one, our goal is to be sure that this investigation gets conducted in a fair and impartial manner. I strongly believe that all of these investigations are baseless and that they should be resolved so that she can then determine what is in store for her in the future.”
Until the investigation is resolved, there can be no determination as to the future. Ms. Guzman noted, “She loves UC Davis, it is her home. She has many friends there.” She added, “It is not our first choice to threaten a lawsuit and to in fact sue the university. But she does have to protect her rights.”
Melinda Guzman clarified that, under Katehi’s contract with the university, “she is an at-will employee with regard to her status as a chancellor of the University of California.” She also, under the contract, “has faculty rights as a member of the faculty.” She is also a member of the Academic Senate. She is a tenured faculty member, appointed with the department of Engineering. “She holds those two positions,” she said.
Ms. Guzman explained that, when the president met with Chancellor Katehi on April 25, “she told her to resign from the university.” She said that “there was a very specific discussion regarding ‘what about my faculty rights’…”
“It was very clear that the president was asking her to resign from both positions, which would violate the terms of her agreement, would violate her faculty rights,” she said.
Melinda Guzman said it was theoretically possible that Ms. Katehi could resign as chancellor but remain as faculty. She explained that this was similar to what happened with Chancellors Larry Vanderhoef and Ted Hullar, as they transitioned out of their chancellor positions.
Ms. Guzman also clarified what happened in the days immediately leading up to the paid administrative leave, where the president “demanded that she go to Oakland for a meeting,” which Ms. Katehi did. “During that meeting, she demanded that she resign from the university.”
“The chancellor was shocked,” she said. “It was not expected.” She asked the president to provide some basis for this decision and also questioned her faculty rights. “She refused to resign that day,” Ms. Guzman explained.
Not only was she shocked by the request, but Ms. Guzman maintains, “No prior chancellor had ever been treated that way.”
While Ms Guzman would not speculate as to the mindset of the president, she called her behavior “rash” and “emotional” and also “abrupt.”
“On that Tuesday,” she explained, she got involved in this matter. She talked with the general counsel and there was an agreement to have a meeting on that Thursday “to talk about the future.” But rumors began to surface between Tuesday and Wednesday about resignation demands.
On Wednesday, April 27, at 8:31 p.m., Ms. Guzman said she received a call from the general counsel’s office and then the letter confirming that Linda Katehi had been placed on paid administrative leave. She was told that the meeting for the next day was off.
“The bottom line from my end is that Janet (Napolitano)’s actions were consistent with a person whose decisions were based on emotion, it was abrupt, and quite frankly it was not well thought out,” she explained, and highlighted again the differences in the treatment that Ms. Katehi received compared to former Chancellors Ted Hullar and Larry Vanderhoef – both of whom left in their own clouds but were allowed time to resign on their own terms.
The key question now is how is this going to play out.
Ms. Guzman called this “an assault on the academic environment, the notion of shared governance, the notion that there is now a police state at UC Davis, the notion that anyone would seize anyone’s computers in violation of their faculty rights.”
“Let me be clear, I’m not just talking about Linda Katehi,” she said, pointing out that she was talking about others as well. “There are a whole host of issues that are problematic to the fundamental principles of the university. The danger here is much greater to the university system than it is to simply one individual in terms of Linda Katehi.”
She added that, as a long-time resident of Davis, “This story is about what has not been stated, the many facts that have not been stated.” The UC Office of the President (UCOP), she said, on April 27 “released incomplete and inaccurate information to the media and therefore to the public in an effort to allow people to reach erroneous conclusions based upon incomplete information.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting