On Wednesday, the LA Times reported that UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, already on the hot seat due to sexual harassment scandals that led to the resignation of Provost Claude Steele in April, is under investigation for alleged misuse of public funds.
According to the Times report, the chancellor is alleged to have “failed to pay for use of the campus Recreational Sports Facility and its professional services, and that he used public funds to pay for travel with a recreational sports employee on non-university business.”
Writes Rachael Nava, the University of California’s chief operating officer, in an April letter, “These allegations, if substantiated, could constitute Improper Governmental Activities, in violation of the University of California Policy on Reporting and Investigating Allegations of Suspected Improper Governmental Activities.”
The Times notes that the chancellor “has also been accused of mishandling sexual abuse complaints. He and Claude Steele, his handpicked provost who resigned earlier this year, were sharply criticized for imposing weak sanctions on three high-powered faculty members who violated UC’s sexual harassment policy, although Steele says he was only involved in one case.”
However, the handling of the investigation by UC has some on the legal team for Linda Katehi wondering why the Berkeley chancellor is being treated differently from Chancellor Katehi.
After all, Chancellor Dirks remains on his job during the course of the investigation. The investigation is proceeding through internal channels and the Office of the President is refusing to comment due to the whistleblower aspects of the case.
But the same is not true of Chancellor Linda Katehi. She was placed on administrative leave back in April. The accusations were laid out to her in a letter from President Janet Napolitano which was directly sent to media sources and disseminated.
The Office of the President has hired an outside attorney, a former federal prosecutor, Melinda Haag, to investigate the chancellor.
Unlike in the Chancellor Dirks matter, UCOP and their spokesperson have liberally commented to the media about the progress of the investigation and their complaints that Chancellor Katehi and her team have been less than fully cooperative in the matter.
Chancellor Dirks isn’t commenting on the matter until the investigation is concluded, but the Times talked to Mike Weinberger, who had served as director of the recreational facility until his retirement in February.
He told the Times that he had approved the training and did not believe it a violation of university policy. Unlike the chancellor, trainer Devin Wicks “has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. “
Mr. Wicks is also involved in the other allegation of improper travel, which “involved a trip to India in January by Wicks and Dirks’ wife, Janaki Bakhle, an associate history professor at Berkeley. Dirks did not travel with Wicks and never has, a university source said.” According to a source, “the trip was paid for by the Berkeley Alumni Assn., not public university dollars. Weinberger said he approved Wicks’ request to use his personal vacation days for the trip.”
These allegations follow perhaps the bigger problem for the Berkeley chancellor, his mishandling of sexual abuse complaints. The Times article notes, “Faculty members were close to calling for a vote of no confidence earlier this year and may revive the effort in the fall.”
“Sadly, the extensive record of indecisiveness, unforced errors and poor decision-making by our top administrator on several critical fronts has seriously undermined [faculty] trust,” Mara Loveman, sociology department chair, said at an Academic Senate meeting in May, according to a transcript.
That actually contrasts to the large number of faculty at UC Davis, especially in the Academic Senate, who have backed Chancellor Katehi.
This is the second time we have seen the Chancellor Katehi matter handled differently from other UC investigations. In late June, the Vanguard reported on the matter of UC Regent William de la Pena, a medical doctor who “tried to negotiate a deal between his eye clinics and UCLA, and engaged in discussions in which he had a financial interest. He denied wrongdoing but resigned as chair of the regents’ health committee.”
However, he was allowed to keep his seat on the Board of Regents, “despite a secret investigation that concluded he violated ethics rules by trying to strike a financially beneficial deal between his eye clinics and UCLA, part of the university system the regents oversee.”
When the Vanguard asked UC Spokesperson Dianne Klein about the April 27 letter regarding Katehi that was made public at the time, she stated that its release “did not violate personnel confidentiality policies.”
She also suggested this was a routine release, writing, “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.”
“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,” she explained.
She added, “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.”
However, the handling of a potentially criminal conflict of interest case involving UC Regent William De La Peña and an allegation of a potential conflict of interest suggests something altogether different.
In contrast to her response to our question about the Linda Katehi matter, when ProPublica asked why this report had been kept confidential, Ms. Klein wrote, “The outcomes of whistleblower investigations are not routinely announced publicly.”
“The investigation was carried out according to UC policy,” she wrote. “His resignation [from the committee] was consistent with what sanction the investigation recommended.”
The results of the matter involving Regent De La Peña were kept secret for over a year, only released after a report by ProPublica and then only in redacted form. The letter from President Napolitano to Chancellor Katehi was released the same day to the Sacramento Bee without even the need for a formal Public Records Request.
—David M. Greenwald reporting