Emanual M. Maverakis, Walter S. Leal, Tilahun Yilma, Kyaw Tha Paw U, Leopoldo M. Bernucci, Charles E. Hess, Bruno Nachtergaele and Linda F. Bisson published an op-ed piece arguing, “With so many controversies surrounding her, it is easy to think Katehi’s resignation is best for UCD and the UC system. However, the more interesting and less publicized story is why the majority of UCD faculty support her and why many decry Napolitano’s decision to put Katehi on administrative leave following her refusal to resign.”
After a long background explaining the finances of the system, the authors note, “The governor of California appoints regents who in turn appoint a university president who in turn nominates chancellors, who are charged with running the different UC campuses. Finding good chancellors is the key to the success of the UC system, and unfortunately it has been hit or miss for many of the campuses.”
They argue that the “ideal chancellor will be an accomplished academician with the business savvy of a Fortune 500 CEO but with a broader portfolio. After all, they will be overseeing their campus’ multibillion-dollar budget as well as educational and research missions.”
They note, “One caveat to this design is that accomplished academicians often are not interested in becoming chancellors because the demands of the job are not compatible with a productive research and academic career.”
“Is Linda Katehi a good chancellor?” they ask. “Given the breadth and intricacies of the job, no UC chancellor will be a perfect fit, and Katehi is no exception. Some professors do not support her for various reasons and there is ongoing animosity by some students who believe their tuition is being squandered on highly paid university executives. This is amplified by residual sentiment from the pepper-spraying incident and the recent reports of her compensated outside university activities.”
“We agree with our students that the loss of the middle class and the deepening of the divide between wealthy and poor limiting access to education creates the type of society UC was created to prevent from arising in California,” they write.
However, “student protesters who view Katehi as personally responsible for the decline of the middle class make up only a relatively tiny fraction of the enormous student body, and the faculty members of the Academic Senate have in the past voted to express their confidence in her.”
While the professor clearly understate the number of student who do not like Chancellor Katehi, they turn their focus to the popularity of Chancellor Katehi among university professors. This, they argue, “has never been accurately reported by the news media, who have been historically focused on the sport of taking her down, as it creates the best headlines. However, in many ways Katehi is the epitome of an ‘ideal’ chancellor: an award-winning, patent-holding engineer with the business savvy to lead the university to record heights in company and government grants and contracts, while raising well over a billion dollars in philanthropic donations, much of which is used to keep UCD affordable via student fellowships, grants and scholarships. This financial aid enables UCD to rely less on out-of-state students and the higher tuition gained therefrom.”
They then enumerate “numerous other contributions that Katehi has made.”
Here they focus on “”promoting diversity and bringing women into STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).” They call her efforts here “unparalleled.” They write, “With partial support from a grant from the National Science Foundation, UCD has added dozens of women and under-represented minorities to its faculty. These efforts have been recognized by Forbes, which named UCD as the most important STEM university for women.”
They add, “The same is true for UCD’s undergraduate student body, which is the most diverse it has ever been. Also noteworthy is the service UCD has provided for the state of California. Under Katehi’s leadership, this campus has consistently enrolled more California residents than any of the other UC campuses.”
“Should California politicians ask for the removal of Katehi?” they ask. “The answer to this ought to be a resounding ‘no.’ Unfortunately, most California politicians do not have the appropriate background to understand how to best run the multifaceted UC system, and its complex budget and economic model, the success of which depends on continuous envelope-pushing by the best and brightest minds.”
What they do not address is the accusations that Linda Katehi faces.
So why are UC faculty disappointed in Janet Napolitano? They come forward with a long list of complaints here.
- Napolitano has no experience with the typical educational, research and publishing activities of academics. She has no past experience in guiding the process of discovery of new knowledge that drives true innovation. She has not been involved in the process of educating young adults and teaching them to become lifelong learners, productive citizens and critical thinkers.
Previous UC presidents historically have been distinguished professors with well-established academic accomplishments and a deep understanding of the education process; many were graduates of the UC system. In contrast, Napolitano is a career politician and lawyer.
- The process of shared governance at UC delegates much of the responsibility for academic programs to faculty. Faculty and administrators work closely together to deliver our educational and research missions to the benefit of citizens of California.
President Napolitano consistently ignores the UC faculty’s input, expressed collectively through the UC Academic Senate or via letters signed by hundreds of professors. Often she does not even acknowledge receipt of these documents, nor does she convey them to the regents.
To the faculty, this hard-hitting management strategy is not in line with the creative and collective goals of the UC system and the many decades of shared governance that have served this university so well.
- We are distressed that Napolitano is handling the Katehi issue as if it were a political campaign by attempting to convict her of wrongdoing through the court of public opinion. While Katehi has been silenced with a gag order, Napolitano and her operatives are free to release statements and to conduct interviews with the press that damage Katehi’s reputation.
Napolitano persistently states that she is basing her judgment of the chancellor on factual “documents,” but has failed to release these to the UCD faculty.
- Although the Office of the President has knowledge of the UC polices and their implementation, the supposed violation of which led to Katehi being placed on administrative leave, Napolitano is steering her office clear of any connection to these publicly unpopular polices by controlling what information is released to the media.
For example, one of the claims is that Vice Chancellor Adela de la Torre received excessive pay increases and that Katehi showed poor judgment when she elected to serve on the DeVry University board. What Napolitano fails to mention is that the regents approved de la Torre’s pay increase and, even more surprisingly, her office knew of Katehi’s service on DeVry’s board prior to any public announcement.
In fact, Katehi had asked Napolitano’s office for advice regarding DeVry well before DeVry announced the appointment to the public. Prior to the negative press, Napolitano’s office never advised Katehi to resign from this or any other board. And the fact that such board service is encouraged by regents policy was not immediately reported by the Office of the President in spite of public requests for information on this policy and its implementation.
- The faculty find many of Napolitano’s claims to be completely absurd. For example, she makes the accusation that Katehi’s son reports directly to his wife. However in reality, Katehi’s son is an epidemiology graduate student, who reports to faculty. From faculty and student perspectives, graduate students report to their professors and to the director of their graduate program. Making such a claim highlights the lack of experience Napolitano has in academics, having never trained a graduate student of her own, and having never been directly involved in graduate education administration.
In fact, the issue of Katehi’s son was independently investigated by the UCD Academic Senate and found to be entirely baseless.
- Other accusations also show that Napolitano does not understand the business side of the UC system. For example, much criticism is being given to the approximately $172,000 that Katehi’s administration paid to improve UCD’s online image. Although this amount might seem excessive, in reality UCD is a multibillion-dollar enterprise with a public relations budget that is in the lower half of UC campuses.
However, with a relentless news media on the hunt, this modest investment made negative headlines later, fueled by the release of contracts boasting a squeaky-clean internet scrubbed of negative information. Clearly, erasing negative press reports from internet history is impossible, but common sense in news reporting and politics do not go hand in hand.
The fact is that a university’s public image is directly linked to its online image, which therefore plays an important role, and this is why most major U.S. research universities have significant public relations budgets. It is especially important for a public institution to transparently report out on the use of public funds, even as the percentage of those funds of the total budget decreases.
Also in this day and age, management of a cyber profile is completely routine across both the public and private sectors. Not noted in any of the public outrage is the obvious connection between telling the story of accomplishment of an institution and the garnering of philanthropic interest.
- As has been pointed out by multiple groups, including Katehi’s legal team, Napolitano is investigating a direct report, Katehi, an individual in which she has publicly expressed no confidence, and therefore has a direct interest in a specific outcome. This constitutes a clear conflict of interest in an investigation.
Napolitano appointed Melinda Haag, a former U.S. attorney under the Obama administration, to head the investigation. Haag represented the Department of Homeland Security while Napolitano was serving as the agency’s head and her firm has worked for UC in the past.
For these and many other reasons, it will be difficult for the results of any investigation conducted by Haag to be viewed as unbiased. For the staggering amount that the state is paying to investigate Katehi, one would hope that it would be conducted appropriately the first time.
They argue: “When the outcome appears predetermined due to public statements of the individual calling for the investigation, in our view there is no way for justice to prevail. If one disregards the actual denominators, the outcome of the Katehi investigation may seem headline-worthy but what is really saddening is the impact that this and other politically driven events ultimately will have on the UC system and our ability to recruit the kind of risk-taking innovators essential to the continued creativity, accomplishment and societal impact of UC.”
The continue: “Does UC Davis need to implement some administrative changes? Yes, but asking Katehi to resign is like firing a Fortune 500 CEO after she has successfully led her company to new heights against the backdrop of a global economic downturn.”
They conclude: “The handling of the Davis crisis by Janet Napolitano is a political heavy-handed approach, which has caused irreparable damage to the university’s reputation. Given the circumstances surrounding this possible separation, it is likely that we will never find a replacement of the same caliber as Katehi.”