On a day in which her client, Linda Katehi, decided to resign as Chancellor but remain on as a tenured faculty member, Attorney Melinda Guzman spoke to the Vanguard on the record about the resignation and the findings of the report.
Ms. Guzman explained that Linda Katehi has been waiting for the investigation report all along. She said, “It was important to her and her family that the allegations that really relate to her service as a scholar – namely nepotism, conflict of interest issues and financial management – those issues were critical to being resolved in her favor.”
In the view of Ms. Guzman, if you look at the report on these issues, “You will see she has been exonerated.” On the issue of nepotism, for example, “she properly made disclosures that recused herself from decisions regarding her family.
“The issue regarding the student fee income was never really an issue,” she explained. “That issue had been resolved in November, 2014, and I believe was added in just simply to call this a whistleblower complaint.” She noted, “The investigators never asked any questions about that issue to her during her interview.”
Indeed, the report concluded here, “The investigation team identified no policy violations or management concerns related to the use of SASI [Student Activities and Services Initiative] revenues.”
Melinda Guzman explained that, once the report came out and “vindicated her,” Ms. Katehi made the decision with her family to resign as chancellor, and to continue her tenured faculty position in “which she already had vested and assume the role as Chancellor-emeritus where she can continue to do the scholarly work that she does as Engineer and Scientist.”
She would continue to work at UC Davis, where she is a distinguished professor in the College of Engineering.
Melinda Guzman explained, “There is an agreement, but in essence it’s (continuing) her contract rights. There is no money or anything like that.” She said that “this was about her integrity and her reputation, this was not about money.”
She was direct when pressed, saying, “There was no severance. There is no money. This was about ending the relationship and essentially enforcing her contract with what she had when she came into the position.”
Melinda Guzman then took the Vanguard back to April 27 of this year, where there were three general issues, according to her. Misuse of student fee income, nepotism, and the social media contracts.
Again, she noted, “The student fee income issue was never an issue.” She said, “The Chancellor, if you read the report, had no involvement in the line-item budget items involving athletics. That was an issue that had been resolved in November, 2014, by both the UC Davis campus and UCOP.” She again argued it was added in to make this a whistleblower complaint.
Then you have the issue of nepotism, she said. “After April 27, the world was told that Linda (Katehi) had violated nepotism rules and you had all these allegations involving her son, her daughter-in-law’s salary increases… In essence what you see is that the Chancellor properly signed disclosure forms that recused her and basically created a wall around her in their academic and employment positions and they confirmed that she hadn’t talked to anybody, she hadn’t exercised any influence or anything of that nature.”
The report criticizes Ms. Katehi because the UC President “understood her to mean that there were no issues whatsoever with respect to their employment, which was not entirely accurate.”
Ms. Guzman responded, “I find that to be a difficult criticism because the campus counsel reports both to the UC as well as to the campus, and he was directly involved in those communications.”
“So if you look at the April 27 timeframe,” she said, referring to the letter on April 27 where the President put the Chancellor on paid administrative leave and initiated the investigation, “two of the three issues were really non-issues.”
Ms. Guzman sees the third issue, where the report really did hammer Ms. Katehi, the social media contracts, as being a matter of “miscommunications between Linda Katehi and Janet Napolitano regarding her role in social media contracts.”
Here the report summarizes, “The evidence gathered indicates that Chancellor Katehi minimized her knowledge of and role in certain social media and strategic communications contracts in her discussions with President Napolitano and the media.”
The findings here are that the Chancellor “advised President Napolitano that she had nothing to do with the contracts and that they were all handled by the UC Davis communications. During these conversations, Chancellor Katehi conveyed the clear impression that she knew nothing of the contracts and that she was not involved in them.”
She told similar things to the Sacramento Bee editorial board.
The report finds, “The Chancellor’s statements were misleading, at best, or untruthful, at worst.”
The report summarizes, “In reality, Chancellor Katehi initiated UC Davis’ relationship with Nevins by unilaterally contacting an executive recruiter to find a social media consultant to help repair reputational damage caused by the 2011 pepper spray incident. She approved replacing Nevins with another company, Purple Strategies, which was recommended by the head of Strategic Communications, and when that engagement ended, she directed her Chief of Staff to find another company to continue the work. He in turn identified IDMLOCO, which was ultimately hired.”
It adds, “Although Chancellor Katehi did not negotiate the contracts or oversee the day-to-day work of the consultants, she advocated for or approved the hiring of each company, participated in meetings with each, and was aware of and reviewed their work product from time to time.”
In the view of Melinda Guzman, she counters, “On that issue, the investigators don’t reach a conclusion that she lied.” She continued, “They do not reach a conclusion that she lied, they say that perhaps it was misleading, or at worst untruthful, but they do not reach a conclusion and they don’t opine on that.”
She notes that “it’s important to remember that there were three contractors, there were multiple contracts, some of which had to do with the SEO [search engine optimization] optimization, some of which had to do with strategic communication for the campus and some had to with the creation of a digital acceleration lab.”
“You have to really segregate out roles and communications and who was doing what,” she explained. “But at the end of the day, Janet Napolitano is basically saying that Linda Katehi lacked judgment and wasn’t candid with her regarding her role in social media.”
In Ms. Guzman’s view, Ms. Napolitano “ignores the nepotism finding and (is) essentially interpreting things the way she would like.” Guzman concludes, “She was not involved in anything inappropriate with regards to those material issues and that is why she is vindicated in that report.”
The Vanguard asked Ms. Guzman if the Chancellor regrets anything that has occurred. Ms. Guzman focused on the positive aspects of Chancellor Katehi’s legacy, starting with her role as fundraiser and the $1.1 billion she claims to have raised for the campus.
“She had the vision,” Melinda Guzman explained, “the correct vision of trying to promote the creation of the digital acceleration lab. The ideas that she was bringing with the regards to the social media contracts were visionary and appropriate for the university.”
“What happened here is that there were so many people involved and, quite frankly, so few communications between Napolitano and Katehi that have been misconstrued to create improper suggestions,” she said.
“Does she regret the ideas and the visions and the creation of programs and the vision for the campus? No,” she said. “She enjoys a lot of the support from the faculty. Perhaps one day she and Napolitano will reach a meeting of the minds with regards to the miscommunication, but in terms of her vision for the campus and the exciting programs in the sciences and the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] programs that she brought to campus, she has no regrets.”
The Vanguard pressed Ms. Guzman about whether the Chancellor believes she has made any mistakes in this process.
Melinda Guzman responded that she has acknowledged some of them publicly already. For example, with regard to the DeVry board, she submitted the paperwork in January of 2016 for Napolitano’s office to review, but “the DeVry entity made the announcement before she had been approved by the Office of the President. That was clearly a mistake. She has acknowledged that. She has apologized for that.”
But the report went further, criticizing not only the timing of the press release, but also the fact that “Chancellor Katehi told President Napolitano that she had not yet begun her service on the DeVry board, which was untrue. Chancellor Katehi had already attended two events related to her board service—an orientation for new board members at DeVry’s headquarters near Chicago and a board meeting in Florida just two weeks before her conversation with President Napolitano.”
“Everyone will consider whether their communications could have been clearer with regards to all of these issues,” Melinda Guzman told the Vanguard. “She can reflect now on her communications with the President and hopefully the President can do the same. So there will be lessons learned for everyone.”
When asked if she believes Chancellor Katehi was railroaded in this process, she responded that, in her own view, “things should have been handled differently on April 27.”
“Had the President simply wanted to remove her, she should have had a candid conversation for her, given her a reasonable opportunity to transition out as past chancellors have been given,” she responded. “That’s not what happened here. In fact, I think it’s outrageous what we saw on April 27.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting