It was just last year that, dismayed by being misled by UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, UC President Janet Napolitano asked the embattled chancellor to resign and then put her on leave pending investigation when she did not.
As the president wrote in an August 5 letter, “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.”
Now the shoe is on the other foot. A UC audit accused the UC President of misleading the public about its budgets, but perhaps the worst part is, as State Auditor Elaine Howle writes, “We found it particularly troublesome that the Office of the President intentionally interfered in our efforts to assess the types and quality of services it provides to campuses. Correspondence between the Office of the President and the campuses shows that the Office of the President inappropriately reviewed campuses’ survey responses, which resulted in campuses making changes to those responses prior to submitting them to us—campus statements that were critical of the Office of the President had been removed or substantially revised, and negative ratings had been changed to be more positive.”
Ultimately, President Nixon had to resign not because of Watergate itself, but the cover up. Ultimately, Linda Katehi resigned because she misled her boss and the public about what she did – not that she did it.
And if this brings down Janet Napolitano, it will likely be the cover up, not the mishandling of $175 million.
Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat out of Torrance, said on Monday that he plans to introduce legislation that would make it a crime to interfere with a state auditor investigation.
“If the board of regents is not going to exercise proper oversight, then the legislature needs to step up, to make sure that state dollars are being well spent for California students,” said Assemblymember Muratsuchi said on Friday. “As a dad, and as a proud Cal bear and UCLA Bruin, I want to know if the UC is spending state dollars well, so that my daughter and all California kids can have the same educational opportunities that I had.”
On Monday, he said that “we’re very disturbed to see the records that were produced as part of the state auditor’s investigation related to the indication and appearance that the office of the president had interfered with the campus’ responses to the state auditor.”
He said that “this is about ensuring going forward that the state auditor has the necessary tools to hold public agencies accountable.”
Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva went further. In a press release in the Orange County Democrat, she called on Janet Napolitano to resign.
“The leaders of our state university systems are duty-bound to maintain the highest levels of transparency, integrity, and accountability to California taxpayers, students, their families, and the Legislature, especially when it comes to public monies,” said Assemblymember Quirk-Silva. “President Napolitano no longer engenders the public trust required to perform her duties.
“It’s time she resigned.”
As if the original news wasn’t bad enough, new revelations on Tuesday from the State Auditor’s office show President Napolitano’s office spent lavishly on parties and other extravagant events and took steps to deny information on its spending practices to the auditors.
“Spending $13,000 – the equivalent of one undergraduate student’s tuition for an entire year – on a fancy retirement dinner shows President Napolitano is not worthy of the public’s trust,” Assemblymember Quirk-Silva continued. “She’s not the person to lead the university system.”
In light of the UC Office of the President’s spending, Ms. Quirk-Silva also renewed her call for the UC Regents to rescind their recent tuition increase.
She said, “Too many families are struggling to give their children better lives. Needlessly raising fees while there are secret pots of money and a bloated bureaucracy that should be cut is ridiculous. Rescind the fees and give middle class families a break.”
These are the first responses to a growing crisis for Janet Napolitano. It started with local Assemblymember Kevin McCarty and then Assemblymember Evan Low, but eventually as many as eight legislators called on Chancellor Katehi to resign.
As Assemblymember Luis Alejo, a UC Davis alum, put it in mid-March 2016, “I met with Chancellor Katehi this week and found her explanations for accepting a position on the board of a for-profit university under federal investigation for defrauding students and taking six-figure compensation for sitting on the board of a text book publisher unsatisfactory and disappointing.”
He added, “I believe Chancellor Katehi’s ability to serve as an effective leader of a UC campus is compromised. To restore the public’s trust in the leadership of UC Davis and the University of California as a whole, Ms. Katehi should resign or be removed from her position as Chancellor of UC Davis.”
Now it is UC President Janet Napolitano who is on the hot seat.
Republican Assemblymember Dante Acosta of Santa Clarita weighs in, writing in this morning’s Bee, “This pattern of deception is why we need a subpoena and forensic audit of UC Office of the President’s records. We simply cannot trust the word of Napolitano or her staff. Calls for the UC regents to review the situation are woefully inadequate. This scandal happened and it is the duty of the Legislature to determine the truth.”
Will the specter of a cover up and fresh revelations be enough? As always, stay turned.
—David M. Greenwald reporting