Monday Morning Thoughts: What Should UC Davis Do?


A few years ago UC Davis seemed to be a power on the rise.  Chancellor Linda Katehi seemed to have gotten over her missteps that led to the pepper spray incident in November 2011.  She was pushing a very aspirational position for UC Davis to become a leader of the 21st century, through strong academic programs, ambitious expansions like the World Food Center, and a strong fundraising program.

This year, through a series of missteps, the wheels fell off quite literally.  Just as it seemed in February that the chancellor had learned from her missteps, embracing an angry group of protesters following some racial incidents on campus, the chancellor was racked by a series of revelations from the Sacramento Bee, starting with the DeVry board and continuing through the pepper spray scrubbing  that ultimately cost Ms. Katehi her job.

UC President Janet Napolitano originally stood by the chancellor through the first wave of scandals, but when it became clear that the chancellor was less than honest about her role in the pepper spray scrubbing contracts, the president first attempted to get her to resign, and when Katehi refused, Napolitano ordered an investigation which eventually forced the chancellor’s resignation.

The research faculty, many of whom benefited greatly from the aspirational side of Linda Katehi, steadfastly backed the chancellor to the day she resigned.  They argued, as some did in April, “Chancellor Katehi’s resignation would be a setback to UCD and would do nothing to produce a new policy on service on outside boards.”

To back their point they cited gains by Latino students, her success in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, and improvements in other areas as well.  In April they wrote, “People are urging the firing of a chancellor who has made the greatest strides in diversifying the campus in UCD history.”

On the other hand, last week the Graduate Student Association put out a press release with a resolution that expressed concern about “the asymmetrical balance of power inherent to the selection and appointment of chancellors.”  They noted that, of the “five faculty members who serve on the advisory search committee, only three are currently employed at UC Davis” and only one is “from the social sciences and humanities.”

My view of Linda Katehi has always been somewhat mixed.  Under her, the campus has had some real successes and moved forward in a number of areas.  Some have argued to me, with some justification, that the chancellor has taken credit for things that were in progress before she arrived and her fundraising prowess is somewhat overstated.

While she has been aspirational, she has also missed some opportunities to really shape and re-shape the campus culture.

Her handling of the pepper spray incident was unfortunate, and she misread the situation, with the occupation of the Quad leading to the forced removal of students.  She also failed to heed the warning from police that clearing the Quad during the day was problematic – this created a huge event that could have been better handled with a more discreet operation or, better yet, by simply allowing the encampments to remain up.

I was disappointed in the attempts by the university to denigrate the protesters in Mrak Hall last February and March.  Their decision to simply allow the students to stay up there was the right one, and time and fatigue ultimately led to non-violent and non-confrontational withdrawal by the student protesters.

The students have legitimate concerns with the direction of the university.  The lack of state money has forced the university to rely more on private funding sources.  The lack of state money has also led to the university taking on more out of state and overseas students, which has led to more community-university tensions.

Growing populations of students moving into a city which has strict growth control policies has led to one of the biggest political fights of the year.  The LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) process has been tense and confrontational.

Here too, the university has had a series of missteps.  It started with their failure to adhere to promises about housing more student population, then continued with delays and cost problems with the development of West Village, and more recently was an initial stance that would trigger even more land use battles.

The university backed down under pressure from citizens and the Davis City Council, when their initial position was their inability to meet student growth with sufficient on-campus housing to meet the needs of those new students.

That led to their promising to take on 90 percent of new student growth – a vast improvement over the previous plan, but still insufficient, given current vacancies in Davis and an accompanying growth in faculty and staff.

To meet that need, however, they floated the ill-conceived idea that they would build housing on the Russell fields.  This too was met with the activation of citizens that have not been participatory in land use disputes previously – the pushback forced a scaled down Russell fields housing proposal.

In the end, they will likely remove that as well.  But the university is clearly spinning its wheels on housing, as they have for several decades.  Remember, it was Linda Katehi who got spooked at the specter of protests over the tearing down of housing at Solano and Orchard Parks, which led to the slow down of those proposals, coupled with UC Davis pulling out of the Solano Gateway portion of the Nishi-Gateway project.

What UC Davis needs is better leadership.  The change at the top has left a very reputable development team at UC Davis without overall leadership to guide them.

This is all related, and what they need is someone with the vision of former Chancellor Linda Katehi combined with a better sense for the needs of the larger community.

We need someone who can continue to push UC Davis forward toward greatness.  Someone who can work with local powers to develop a workable plan for economic development and the transfer of research from the campus into spinoffs that can help the city of Davis and the region advance in its economic development.

At the same time, the university needs someone who can work better with the students – who are fearful that college is becoming unaffordable on the one hand, and on the other hand is aligning with private interests that will simply exacerbate this trend.

Finally, UC Davis needs a chancellor and leadership team that sees the city of Davis as a partner that they need to work with for the benefit of the university, the students and the community.

It is a tall task, but, to move forward, that is what the community and the university need.

—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. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    > that ultimately cost Ms. Katehi her job.

    It should be noted that while Ms. Katehi is no longer the the UCD “Chancellor”, she still has a high paying “job” at UCD (with a big pension that most of us can only dream about)…

    > UC President Janet Napolitano originally stood by the

    > chancellor through the first wave of scandals

    I was not aware that Napolitano (who did not become UC President for almost two years after the pepper spray incident and “first wave” of scandals) was “standing by” Katehi when she was still heading the Department of Homeland Security…

  2. Chamber Fan

    Thoughtful column and the first two comments are nitpicking word choices.

    UC Davis needs to hit a home run with their hire – someone who can work with the community but keep the university on its current path.

    I’m sick of the no-growth people who can’t see the broader vision here.

  3. ryankelly

    Land use issues and student housing is but one side issue.  The University is still roaring along, doing its thing.  I can tell you that, on campus, housing for students is viewed as a problem to be solved.  Same for the hiring of a Chancellor.

      1. ryankelly

        This year, through a series of missteps, the wheels fell off quite literally.

        This statement may be attributed to Katehi, but not the University as a whole.  I reject the image that we are floundering.

    1. Roberta Millstein

      ryankelly, I agree with you.  Students are still working hard, graduating, and going on to successful and fulfilled lives.  Faculty are teaching classes and doing outstanding research.  It’s too easy to forget our core missions when all of these flashy side issues flare up.  Those core missions could be better supported — there’s no doubt about that — but overall things are healthy for now.

  4. Edison

    Today’s thoughtful Vanguard article notes that UCD’s draft update to its Long Range Development Plan promises “…to take on 90 percent of new student growth – a vast improvement over the previous plan, but still insufficient, given current vacancies in Davis and an accompanying growth in faculty and staff.”  It’s even more vastly insufficient relative to the tremendous enrollment growth the LRDP contemplates. According to the LRDP website and other UCD sources, there were 32,130 students on campus during the 2014-15 academic year, of which UCD claims 29% lived on campus based on 3-quarter average enrollment. That means 9,318 students lived on campus and 71% (or 22,812) lived off-campus.
    Looking at the LRDP projections for the 2027-28 school year, UCD estimates that enrollment will grow from 32,130 to 39,000, a jump of almost 7,000 students. That’s an increase of more than 21% in just the 13 years between 2014 and 2027.  (It’s also interesting to note that fall quarter enrollment is always much higher than the 3-quarter average to which UCD typically refers. Total Davis enrollment in fall 2014 was 33,434, or 1,304 less than the average of all three quarters. It would be interesting to know what percentage of those 33,434 students lived on campus.)
    The LRDP also contemplates that 40% of the 39,000 students expected in 2027 will reside on campus, which sounds impressive until one does some simple math. If 40% of 39,000 students will live on campus (or 15,600), that means 60%, or 23,400, are expected to live off campus.  That 23,400 is almost 600 more students living off campus in 2027 than the 22,812 who lived off campus in 2014. The upshot is that despite UCD’s claim that it will house 90% of the student growth, the total number of students who will be looking for scarce off-campus rental housing in Davis neighborhoods and elsewhere will actually increase.   That’s something UCD planners and administrators aren’t talking about.  So, even with UCD’s meager efforts to provide more on-campus housing, the impacts of its growth will continue to effect Davis.  
    Plus, the LRDP makes no estimate of when the new housing will appear. This means enrollment will continue steadily increasing from 32,130 in 2014-2015 to 39,000 in 2027-28, but that growth could very well exceed housing construction.   Based on UCD’s past poor performance in providing housing in a timely fashion, there is reason to doubt whether the LRDP’s housing construction provisions will ever occur.
    Yes, UCD has long been a leader in many endeavors, but it is lagging far behind the other UCD campuses when it comes to providing for student housing needs on campus.  Hopefully the next Chancellor will devote some greatly needed attention to this glaring need.

    1. Don Shor

      The upshot is that despite UCD’s claim that it will house 90% of the student growth, the total number of students who will be looking for scarce off-campus rental housing in Davis neighborhoods and elsewhere will actually increase.

      Yes. A number of us have been making that point for quite awhile. It’s one of the reasons more rental housing is needed in town.

  5. SODA

    I thank you for a good summary article. I would stress that we should be looking for someone who will enthusiastically engage with the campus, students and city culture.  Get involved in community activities if only by attending.

    For instance Linda Katehi was hardly ever seen at Mondavi performances and when she came it was with an entourage of aides, almost as a buffer from interacting with others. I don’t think she engaged with the community.

  6. Marina Kalugin


    Nice article, David.

    I see the same low level folks who hide behind their sock puppets bashing again.

    I for one, recommend no one less than the Chancellor Emerita as our next leader.

    Chances are so very slim that our Chancellor Emerita could possibly reconsider her resignation, she is truly the most stellar person we could hope for.

    The only way we would be so fortunate, is if the Academic Senates and the remaining chancellors who are not a@@@@ -k@@@@@ could possibly convince the UCOP Pres Napo for short, and her cronies the Gov and the latest and most low level regents who have little clue about some things to can the Napo….for doing things outside of her realm of authority….starting with the “gang of two” meetings in 2014…

    I do  believe she and the Gov called it the “committee of two”…  Gang of two is much more appropriate.

    Only the bottom of the barrel will be enthusiastically hoping and praying for the chance to come run amuk here for 5 years….

    Kinda like the truly incompetent last choice “Dean” we barely escaped another 5 years with…at my department where everyone is holding their breath that by Oct 31 I will have had my final paycheck.

    For those who do not really know the policies to the extent that I do,  did you know that one can even unretire?

    OMG>…  better change those policies quickly, right?

    once Dr. Katehi arrived, the Napolitano’s first order of business was to get those policies changed as quickly as possible, as they were way too kind and accommodating  for those who dared to get sick in their later years or needed to take some time off to keep elders from being killed in this truly worst state in this nation….now that the likes of Monsanto are running amuk.

    Some may think that this is not pertinent to the discussion, oh no my friends.

    The top candidate for Dean to our college pulled out after seeing what was being done to Linda Katehi…..

    Some even told my chair that something I shared on the DV is to blame..

    PS>   To those of you who purposely still continue to try to put down or equalize to their lower scummy level, Linda Katehi is Dr. Katehi to you.

    Please show some f@@@@@ respect to someone who you wouldn’t be qualified to kiss her feet….

    How do I know…..any pansy who hides behind sock puppets is scummy, right?

    PS>   Where the f is the ignore button, right?



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