The August 5 letter from Janet Napolitano does provide us with some insight as to what the UC President was thinking and why she changed her mind – but, while some in the media have considered the letter a bombshell, a closer scrutiny reveals that the President was a good deal more pointed than was the investigative report.
Back in August, we noted that there were two vastly different portrayals of the report.
The LA Times wrote: “Two starkly different portrayals of Linda Katehi emerged Tuesday after she resigned her post just moments ahead of the release of a report on an independent investigation into her tenure as UC Davis chancellor.”
Melinda Guzman, the attorney representing the chancellor, characterized it as “Linda Katehi and her family have been exonerated from baseless accusations of nepotism, conflicts of interest, financial management and personal gain, just as we predicted and as the UC Davis Academic Senate found within days of this leave.”
On the other hand, President Napolitano used words describing a deeply flawed administrator, who exercised poor judgment and violated multiple university policies, and who misled her superiors, the public and the media.
We do learn some things from the President’s letter. As we suspected back in August, the trigger revelations for why the President asked Ms. Katehi to resign was indeed the social media contracts and the perception by the President that Ms. Katehi was not forthcoming about her role in them.
As Ms. Napolitano writes, “Chancellor Katehi said she knew nothing about the contracts. She said that her communications team was responsible.”
But there was also kind of a totality of the circumstances view here, “Public criticism of a leader is to be expected and our chancellors are too often the targets of unfair blame and unfounded complaints. But the uniquely intense, critical public scrutiny of Chancellor Katehi’s leadership has become a distraction from the important work of the campus and the University as a whole–a distraction that could have been avoided through the exercise of sound judgment and simple honesty when the original story broke.”
The bottom line for why she changed her view was this: “Despite my initial defense of Chancellor Katehi, by April 2016 it became apparent that she had not been candid in her representations to me nor to the public about key facts.”
The President then met with Chancellor Katehi, in private, and in her words “encouraged her to resign as chancellor for the good of UC Davis and the University as a whole.”
Again, reading the UC President’s letter, it is clear that the need to resign, in her view, was about the social media contracts. The President writes, “The investigation has demonstrated that Chancellor Katehi repeatedly misled UC leadership, the UC Davis community, and the public about matters that would cast her in a negative light. This is especially evident in relation to the campus’s hiring of outside firms to handle social media, where investigators found that the chancellor exhibited a lack of candor about personally initialing these engagements and about her involvement once they were underway. Contrary to her repeated private and public statements. The social media firms were hired primarily to enhance her personal reputation and did involve efforts to rewrite or remove negative online content about her.”
The chancellor, according to Ms. Napolitano, was “not forthright about virtually every aspect of the social media engagements.”
She writes, “Chancellor Katehi made several misrepresentations to the public and to me about her personal role in those engagements, about whether they focused on improving the campus’s reputation or her own, and about whether they were intended to ‘scrub’ the Internet of negative references about her or about the campus.” She adds, “With respect to each of these three areas, the investigative report concludes that Chancellor Katehi made material misstatements.”
“Chancellor Katehi’s representations about these contracts were false. The investigation identifies at least six witnesses and at least 13 exhibits that contradict Chancellor Katehi’s assertions about her involvement. It concludes that she was deeply involved in the Nevins & Associates contract. “In reality, Chancellor Katehi initiated UC Davis’ relationship with Nevins & Associates by unilaterally contacting an executive recruiter to find a social media consultant to help repair reputational damage caused by the 2011 pepper spray incident,” the report concludes.
One area that was new and troubling was President Napolitano’s conclusion, “Chancellor Katehi has fostered a culture where even the campus leaders closest to her do not feel comfortable letting her know when she is engaging in questionable activity.” Here, we might go further in arguing that at times it seems that they defended that questionable activity.
The President went on to say, “Even in instances where staff members raised concerns about the advisability of proposed actions because it would reflect negatively on the judgment of a top public research university, Chancellor Katehi did not heed their counsel.”
Here she cites the editing of Katehi’s Wikipedia page, where the chancellor actually interrupted her vacation to phone someone whose name is redacted “and asked him to edit her Wikipedia page concerning her knowledge of the Illinois admissions scandal.”
While none of this paints a particularly good picture of the chancellor, it is important to note that, as opposed to Janet Napolitano’s letter, the investigative report is actually far more balanced in its assessment.
In August, Melinda Guzman told the Vanguard that the nepotism charge was more about miscommunication than wrongdoing, and I think that is an accurate view.
The report notes, “If Chancellor Katehi intended to convey to President Napolitano that there were no issues with respect to her involvement in her son’s and daughter-in-law’s employment, then her statements were accurate.”
While President Napolitano took the chancellor’s words differently than intended, “it does not appear that Chancellor Katehi attempted to intentionally mislead President Napolitano during their call on April 19.”
The student fee issues, Ms. Guzman said, were resolved in 2014, and it appears that she is correct there as the investigation concludes, “The investigation team identified no policy violations or management concerns related to the use of SASI [Student Activities and Services Initiative] revenues.”
I think it is important to understand that the report itself notes that, even in cases where violations occurred, such as the reimbursement of travel costs, “Chancellor Katehi did not personally profit from this arrangement,” and then, in the second case, “It does not appear that Chancellor Katehi personally profited, or that UC Davis suffered a financial loss, as a result of these policy violations.”
This is critical to understanding that Chancellor Katehi, while her judgment and communications skills can be questioned, is not profiting off her wrongdoing. This is not criminal corruption. This is at most sloppiness and some mistakes.
Also, the report finds there is “no evidence that Chancellor Katehi retaliated or threatened retaliation against employees for their cooperation with this investigation or with UCOP.”
What is interesting is again comparing the UC Davis Chancellor’s resignation to that of UC Berkeley’s Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who resigned only ten days after Linda Katehi, amid serious faculty criticism of his handling of a sexual misconduct case.
In that case, Janet Napolitano accepted his resignation, and expressed “deep appreciation for Chancellor Dirks’s efforts on behalf of this great institution.”
In a published account, Mr. Dirks had repeatedly defended Claude Steele, who was forced to resign “as executive vice-chancellor and provost of UC Berkeley after widespread criticisms of his role in addressing sexual harassment claims against the dean of the renowned law school.”
The account continues, “It was later revealed that Choudhry was supporting Steele’s nomination to the Berkeley law faculty at the same time that the sexual harassment investigation was in process. In an interview with the Guardian after he resigned, Steele said he had ‘regrets’ about the sanctions he chose for Choudhry, but he has denied that there was any conflict of interest.”
This wasn’t the only case, and “Napolitano had publicly raised concerns about Dirks’ handling of another harassment case involving Graham Fleming, former vice-chancellor of research. After Fleming lost that position amid a sexual harassment scandal, Dirks appointed him to another administrative post, and Fleming was paid a $20,000 stipend and reimbursed for travel in Europe and Asia.”
In a letter to Dirks, Ms. Napolitano wrote: “I expect you to immediately remove Professor Fleming from any administrative positions that he holds.”
Chancellor Dirks resigned because he badly mishandled a series of sexual harassment scandals and lost the confidence of his faculty. Chancellor Katehi, on the other hand, resigned because she was less than forthcoming about some social media contracts, despite strong support among various faculty members.
So Nicholas Dirks gets a note of “deep appreciation” while Linda Katehi get a scathing 15-page letter. For some time, defenders of Linda Katehi have questioned whether a male in her position would have been forced to resign. While I cannot answer that question definitively, I think we would err if we completely discounted the role of gender in all of this.
—David M. Greenwald reporting