Analysis: Napolitano Letter Reveals Thinking on Katehi’s Resignation

Chancellor Linda Katehi in February
Chancellor Linda Katehi in February

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

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. SODA

    Interesting that you don’t mention Katehi’s  refusal to resign after meeting with Napolitano and apparently agreeing to initial terms. I believe the letter details that. Katehi then sent the email expressing 100% commitment to UCD. Don’t you think this action of near insubordination might have affected Napolitano’s action and choice of words ultimately? If she had agreed to the initial terms I would imagine that Napolitano would have used kinder and more generous words as with Dirks but instead we saw a lengthy, expensive investigation and delay in finding a new Chancellor.

    1. David Greenwald

      Yes, she discusses Katehi’s refusal to resign, that should could have simply fired her, but they gave her a fair hearing. But of course the letter doesn’t mention that she was exonerated on a number of the things as well.

      1. SODA

        David, you seemed to characterize the handling of the UCB Chancellor and UCD’s as fair/unfair and did not comment on my suggestion as to the reasons why. Apparently UCB’s Chancellor agreed to resign initially whereas UCD’s did an about face and pledged commitment to UCD, kind of ‘in your face’.

        The letter stresses the social media contracts, yes, but emphasizes the misstatements and untruths Katehi repeated to Napolitano and the community (Sac Bee) about them, which I am thinking was the major error. You don’t mention but the report also talks about the 22 boards Katehi served on (with approval for 17) and again how she was not truthful in her service to the DeVry board.

        The letter also mentions her pledge to donate Wiley stock or procedes to student scholarships and then not.

        As far as exoneration, the letter mentions several minor infractions regarding her son’s employment so am not sure exoneration was in order.


    1. Chamber Fan

      I find your comment offensive.  You take a lot of joy in the demise of another.  I’m not particularly supportive of Katehi, but this is also not a baseball game.

        1. South of Davis

          hpierce wrote:

          > Sorry to hear Katehi has passed (demise was the word

          > used) … have services been scheduled?

          In addition to meaning “death” demise also means “transfer of sovereignty, by the deposition of the sovereign”.

          Maybe Chamber Fan knows something I don’t know about the former Chancellor, but I am assuming she is still alive and Chamber Fan was using the second meaning of the word…

      1. Alan Miller

        You take a lot of joy in the demise of another.

        Yes I do.

        What I do not take joy in is having my friends knocked over by UCD police officers and sprayed in the face with pepper spray.

        I also take a lot of joy in the fact that you are offended by my comments.

        1. Alan Miller

          Yes, I am a vengeful, shallow man.
          During the waxing phase of the Moon, I am a superhero,  placed on this Earth by God, to rid the Vanguard comments of anonymous cowardly persons  who take pot shots at peoples personalities. I shall rid The Vanguard of all anonymous persons, and rule the Earth.
          Vengeance is mine, sayeth The Al.

  2. Tia Will


    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.”

    I do not personally believe that any of this had anything to do with former Chancellor Katehi’s gender or nationality of origin. I would like to see any actual evidence that “we would err if we completely discounted the role of her gender in all of this.” I no , I do not count the opinions of her three most ardent supporters on the Vanguard as “evidence”.

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > I do not personally believe that any of this had anything to do

      > with former Chancellor Katehi’s gender or nationality of origin.

      We all know that (tragically) a lot of people have been fired (or never got the job in the first place) due to their gender, nationality of origin (and religion).

      Fortunately there is a LOT less discrimination today and I’m happy to read that Tia has not joined with the many of the people with her left of center views on the bandwagon saying (without any evidence) that every time a woman with an accent is fired that their gender place of birth was the reason they got canned (now if we can only get her to understand that the color of someone’s skin is rarely the reason they got shot)…


      1. Tia Will

        South of Davis

        While I appreciate the fact that you seem to be aware that I can think for myself, you do not seem to have made the differentiation as regards race. I would ask you to find single post from me that would imply that I think that excessive police use of force, which I do believe is quite prevalent, is specifically race dependent. Just because others frequently make this linkage, and I frequently agree that there is a correlation ( sometimes for the reasons cited by you, Frankly and others) does not mean that I ever abandon the principle that each case must be judged on its own merits, not by the skin color of the victim or perpetrator.

  3. PhillipColeman

    Let’s set aside for the moment the particulars of the charges against Katehi and the judgments found. There was a far more important issue revealed in the summations after the resignation. It is at the heart of all the events that lead to an eventual resignation.

    Katehi was a very poor administrator, she was hired to perform a specialty task. But she remained in the nominal role as the University’s administrator, a task for which she had few skills and little experience. She was terminated because she violated fundamental administrative concepts required of all leaders to perform effectively. Katehi never knew these commandments, or ignored them.

    One: You never–absolutely never–blame your subordinates for an improper action that you took. And it becomes a compounded felony when your loyal subordinates warn you not to do something, you ignore their advice, you get caught, and they you turn around and blame them to conceal your own culpability. That act alone was worthy of termination.

    Subordinates who become targets don’t forget when they are falsely put into the scapegoat role. And when an investigative team rolls around a few months later, the loyalty to the boss is gone. Instead, the sentiment is payback and “I’m now going to be as loyal to her as she was to me.”

    Two: Never lie to your boss. Let’s dispense with the weasel-word phrase, “less than forthright.” Katehi was  “deliberately deceitful” and later “outright lied” in responding to specific charges. Napolitano accepted the deceitful version of the early story and supported her unconditionally, but then rumbles from the betrayed Katehi staff started surfacing. A second interview, outright lies were needed by Katehi in response to more detailed questions. It was right at the point that Katehi’s fate was sealed.

    All of this mess occurred withing the boundaries of an institution charged with imparting knowledge and wisdom. Did anybody over there happen to learn anything? It’s now been twice in recent years you’ve been publicly embarrassed.

    1. SODA

      Thanks Phil

      You summarized more eloquently than I did earlier. And Chamber Fan, I believe Napilitano wishes she had fired her before the drawn out and expensive investigation. Her reason was transparency and not sure it was worth it but probably Katehi’s exit package would have been more lucrative if she had resigned initially.

      I agree with Tia that there is no evidence for gender bias and as a woman that is offensive to me.

      David I think you were swayed by the spin doctors late in the investigation.

    2. South of Davis

      Phil wrote:

      > Let’s dispense with the weasel-word phrase, “less than

      > forthright.” Katehi was  “deliberately deceitful”

      > and later “outright lied”

      I’ve noticed that when someone is on the “side” of the liar they use terms like “less than forthright” rather than the more accurate term “liar”…

  4. tribeUSA

    From article: “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.”

    Last I heard, boss Napolitano is a woman edited Surely you are not implying that Napolitano used brutally harsh words on Katehi because Napolitano was some kind of stereotypically vicious terror queen in authority; and a man in Napolitano’s place would have been gentler?

    [moderator] inappropriate comments removed.

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