Sunday Commentary: The Absurdity of the Katehi Investigation

UC President Janet Napolitano

There is an interesting article in The Atlantic on the absurdity of the $1 million expenditure to investigate Linda Katehi and eventually terminate her.

As Conor Friedersdorf writes, “As a general matter, it’s hard to fault thoroughness, but can it possibly be rational to review 67,000 documents, interview 55 individuals, and spend nearly $1 million in public money to get rid of a chancellor whose failures were manifestly clear?”

He continues, “At some point, procedure and due diligence cross over to insanity. Whether we’ve reached that threshold because of fear of lawsuits, or bureaucratic drift, or a class of  elites who pay one another vast sums to sit on boards and carry out investigations, the system is in need of reform.”

I do think a lot of this was fear of a lawsuit.  As Ms. Katehi pointed out in her stream of Tweets last week, “I was asked to resign from the University w/o any proof of wrongdoing.”  UC probably figured they were going to have to do this investigation one way or the other – either up front or through a litigation process, and they probably did the math and figured this would be cheaper.

The termination of Linda Katehi ultimately came down to three things.  First, she clearly mismanaged the student protests leading up to the pepper-spray incident back in 2011.  Ironically, UC Davis learned from their mistakes and has managed protests far better since that incident than they did at any point in time prior to it.

Second, ironically the pepper-spray incident was in most people’s rear view mirror when the chancellor made the poor decision to contract with consultants for at least $175,000 to “scrub the Internet of negative online postings,” especially on the pepper-spray incident, and “to improve the reputations of both the university and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.”

Still, with all of the heartache over the moonlighting and paid service on boards and the pepper-spray scrubbing, she probably would have survived all of this had she not lied or misled her boss and the public about the nature of the contracts and her role in them.

I am not here to defend any of those three things, but my concern from April 2016 on has been the overreaction of the UC President Napolitano to all of this.

As Attorney Melinda Guzman pointed out last August, “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.”

It bears noting once again that, for all the very worst things that Linda Katehi was accused of, the report actually exonerated her.

The University of California spent $1 million to find out that, while Chancellor Katehi’s judgment and communication skills were questionable at best and perhaps worse than that, she did not profit from her wrongdoing, she was not found guilty of criminal corruption.  At most, this was sloppiness and poor judgment.

There was “no evidence that Chancellor Katehi retaliated or threatened retaliation against employees for their cooperation with this investigation or with UCOP.”

Instead, the $1 million investigation found 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.”

The report finds, “The Chancellor’s statements were misleading, at best, or untruthful, at worst.”

Had she simply come clean when these reports emerged, she might have survived.

“Chancellor Katehi has engaged in a pattern of misrepresentations, … has repeatedly exercised poor judgment when confronted with challenges, has consistently disregarded the impact of her actions on the campus and the university as a whole and has failed to mitigate troubling management practices,” said UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein. “This behavior is not fit for a UC chancellor or anyone in a leadership position.”

Indeed.  There can be no doubt that this is true and I think most reasonable people would ask for the chancellor’s resignation given that.

The question before us today is whether that should have cost $1 million.

Conor Friedersdorf writes, “The original plan was to pay her $106,000 in salary to fulfill zero responsibilities for three months while investigators figured out whether she should be fired or retained, because that’s the insane way that California deals with high-ranking bureaucrats who’ve behaved badly—never mind that the vast majority of California residents earn far less with no such job security. Katehi was paid $424,360 annually.”

He adds, “What happened next was even more galling.”  He writes, “Katehi’s bosses finally decided that she should be ousted.”  He continues, “But for some reason, the California bureaucracy goes about terminating failing employees using the most drawn out, flagrantly costly methods imaginable.”

Unfortunately, while we spent $1 million to figure out that Ms. Katehi needed to leave, no one is going to investigate President Napolitano on her poor decision-making leading up to this.

We can only hope that the next chancellor, Gary May, who has engaged in many of the same moonlighting activities as that of his predecessor, turns out to have a better ending than his predecessor.

—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.

Related posts


Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for