It has been about six weeks since UC President Janet Napolitano put Linda Katehi on administrative leave, pending an investigation into the chancellor’s conduct. Since that time, many of the chancellor’s supporters have not given up on the idea that the chancellor was largely innocent of the charges that the president laid out in her April 27 letter.
For my part, I initially considered the pushback to be ill-conceived and somewhat futile. To me there were some clear judgment errors on the part of the chancellor that rendered much of the good work that had occurred under her watch as moot. From my standpoint, her decision to serve as a board member on the DeVry board or the publishing company were flawed, but should not have been fatal to her career.
Indeed, my initial comments were that unless another shoe falls, the chancellor will survive. However, several additional shoes fell and ultimately, to the surprise of many, the chancellor did not survive.
More concerning to me than the initial allegations were the allegations of nepotism – the employment of relatives and the rather large compensation they earned – and, especially, the contract to scrub the internet of reference to the Pepper Spray incident – which no matter how many times it was explained, reading the contract and knowing the involvement of the chancellor in that contract, the worse it looked.
However, there are those who believe that Ms. Katehi has been treated differently, in part because of her gender. That somehow the president, who stood by her for a long time publicly, has a vendetta against her.
I was skeptical of these claims, but after talking with attorney Melinda Guzman representing Ms. Katehi and corresponding with Dianne Klein, spokesperson for the UC Office of the President (UCOP), I am beginning to side with Ms. Katehi in this.
For starters, there seems to be some gamesmanship by the UCOP. I will highlight two small, but I think significant, points in this.
Last week, Linda Katehi’s team called a press conference. I was surprised to learn that Dianne Klein rather pointedly made the accusation that Linda Katehi was not cooperating with the investigation.
Melinda Guzman told the Vanguard that claims of the lack of cooperation on their part “is absolutely incorrect.” She explained 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.
Ms. Guzman was able to point to specific places where it was UC that was the party delaying matters. For instance, it took them three weeks to get Ms. Guzman access to Chancellor Katehi’s personnel file.
Moreover, Ms. Guzman pointed out that she had sent UC a number of requests and many of them were either delayed or not responded to.
Dianne Klein responded, “What I said previously is correct. We are disappointed that Chancellor Katehi and her counsel have repeatedly said they were unable to meet with investigators.”
Ms. Klein continued, “Yesterday I learned that there is now an appointment scheduled between an investigator and the chancellor for the end of the month.”
Contrary to the claims of Ms. Guzman, Ms. Klein stated that Ms. Guzman “has sent several letters on a variety of topics, and all issues have been responded to in writing or by phone.”
What is interesting is that the last statement by Ms. Klein is technically true. She sent me that response just before 6 pm on Thursday. Melinda Guzman sent me a screen shot of the email that arrived with a response at 5:06 pm. So an hour before Ms. Klein responded to me, and the same day as Ms. Guzman made the accusation on the record and was published in the Vanguard, UC just happened to send the response to Ms. Guzman’s request – what are the chances?
Then there is also the matter of the personnel records.
Ms. Guzman expressed to the Vanguard that the letter dated April 27 from President Janet Napolitano to Chancellor Katehi was “unprecedented” and breached her right to confidentiality. “In California, there are rights of privacy,” she stated.
Ms. Klein argues, “The release of the letter, which was in response to media requests, did not violate personnel confidentiality policies.” She explained, “As a general matter, when media request University documents that could affect the privacy rights of individuals, California law requires us to balance the public’s interest in the disclosure of records relating to public business against an individual’s interest in non-disclosure.”
She added, “One factor that influences this balance is the nature of an individual’s position. The higher the level of one’s position, the greater likelihood that the balance tips in favor of the public interest in disclosure. In light of the many weeks of media attention arising from Chancellor Katehi’s leadership, UCOP determined that, in this case, the balance favored disclosure when the letter was requested.”
This is an institution that is notorious for withholding legitimate public records and has been accused recently of sitting on documents that have been requested by the media. But suddenly, when it suits their purpose, they turn over sensitive personnel matters to the press the same day they were sent?
Contrary to the claims of Ms. Klein, this kind of release is highly unusual. We have seen a rash of shake ups in academic institutions across the country – but I’m not sure we can find a single example of this type of letter being disseminated to the press.
There is also a charge that the deck is stacked against Ms. Katehi because of the conflict of interest with the Orrick firm and Melinda Haag, who are supposed to be independent investigators.
I get the point that Orrick and Ms. Haag had served the Department of Homeland Security. I also get the response of Ms. Klein that the relationship between Janet Napolitano and Melissa Haag was thin, at best.
This whole thing looks sloppy and as though Ms. Napolitano is attempting to stack the deck against the chancellor. The connection between Ms. Haag and Ms. Napolitano, thin as it may be, plays into that a bit.
The bottom line is that, unless a third-party entity hired the independent investigator, the investigator would not look unbiased. Ms. Napolitano probably could have fired Ms. Katehi on the spot for cause and avoided this whole conflagration, but for some reason chose not to.
Now she has a battle on her hands, and has handed Ms. Katehi some explosive ammunition to use against her.
In the end, it is hard to imagine Ms. Katehi getting her job back, but, as Ms. Guzman pointed out to the Vanguard, her goal was perhaps more basic. Ms. Guzman told the Vanguard, “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.”
I don’t agree with Ms. Guzman that the allegations are baseless. There is a clear basis for them, there were clear missteps by the chancellor – the question really is how much of this the chancellor could have and should have avoided, and whether they rise to the level of the need for a new chancellor.
Again, at this point, it is still hard to imagine that the chancellor gets her job back. But now the Office of the President looks just as sloppy as the chancellor, in their handling of this mess.
—David M. Greenwald reporting