Katehi in Context: Demanding the UC Davis Chancellor’s Resignation

November 26, 2011

In the aftermath of the Nov. 18 UC Davis pepper spray incident, in which about a dozen nonviolent protesters were sprayed by police, one of the first rallying cries was a call for the campus chancellor’s resignation.

An open letter by Davis Assistant Professor Nathan Brown bluntly demanded that the chancellor resign immediately. “You may not order police to forcefully disperse student protesters peacefully protesting police brutality… It is not an option available to you as the Chancellor of a UC campus. That is why I am calling for your immediate resignation,” he wrote the day of the incident.

The letter was posted on Change.org in a petition also demanding the Chancellor’s resignation, and at press time, the petition had nearly 100,000 online signatures. The UC Davis Faculty Association Board echoed this demand in a statement posted the day after the incident, as did the UC Davis English department.

The internet is abuzz in response to the incidents, and some bloggers with no connection to UC Davis are supporting demands for her resignation as well. “The university chancellor is either not in control of the situation, and should resign, or she approves of what can only be described as gratuitous violence against kids staging a peaceful sit in, and she should resign.” John Aravosis wrote at AmericaBlog.

What sparked such widespread support for demanding her resignation? Is this justified? Answering those questions requires an examination of what good things she’s done for the university in the past, and whether the good outweighs her serious yet seemingly momentary failure on the 18th.

Linda Katehi was voted in as UC Davis Chancellor on May 7, 2009, and took office on Aug. 19 of that year with an initial salary about 27 percent higher than that of her predecessor. (She reportedly later took a pay cut of 10 percent.)

In the past two years, according to UC Davis’s student newspaper archives, Katehi endured no major criticisms of her character or ability to lead, aside from the continuing UC system-wide protests against tuition hikes.

However, before that, Katehi was provost at University of Illinois Champagne-Urbana (UICU), which suffered from a major admissions scandal under her watch. The evidence in the case, which consisted of 1,400 documents obtained by The Chicago Tribune, did not show that Katehi played a major role in the “clout list” debacle, which caused UICU to admit students with sub-par qualifications merely because of wealth or political ties.

UC Davis Students called for a more thorough investigation by the UC Board of Regents, but that seems to have never happened. The Illinois Admissions Review Commission did not specifically clear Katehi of any wrongdoing, but did not mention her at all in their final report, either.

Upon assuming the chancellorship, Katehi used the role to continue to advocate for engineering programs in K-12 schools. She also dealt as swiftly as possible with two hate crimes on UC Davis campus in early 2010, and implemented an annual $230,000 fund to help combat intolerance.

In January 2011, Katehi spoke out against raising pensions for top UC system executives, saying in a statement “While I have great respect for the four UC Davis leaders who signed this letter and understand their perspective… I do not support a change in the university’s policy that would increase their retirement benefits.”

However, Katehi’s commitment to listening to student voices has been long called into question.

Student dissent over tuition and fee increases has been growing across UC’s system for years now, but Katehi only created a pair of student “advisory” boards to attempt to institutionalize the issue. Those boards meet with her four times a quarter but have no tangible power.

In June 2010, Katehi directly presided over the decision to cut four varsity sports teams due to budget issues, and that decision was made during a series of secret meetings with the athletic department and did not include student input, according to The Daily Democrat. This secretive process violated the university’s formal commitment to making athletic decisions as transparent as possible.

Over 100 student athletes filed grievances against the decision, but according to UC Davis’ athletic website, those teams do not seem to have been reinstated. No updates on that issue were available via The Aggie or Daily Democrat coverage, but The Aggie reports that more sports cuts are currently being considered as administrators evaluate recommended changes to the athletic department structure.

Finally, under Katehi, a “Student Activism Team” for monitoring student dissent was formed in August 2010, but students had no knowledge of the group until a Public Records Request revealed the surveillance team’s existence in April 2011.

According to an article from The Aggie, the individuals involved in this team were administrators and staff members from a wide range of on-campus student resources, including the Cross-Cultural Center and LGBT Center. One student stated that “It suggests that the administration is targeting minorities and using staff that students are close with.”

All of that context brings us to the current perceived crisis of leadership on UC Davis campus. In response to the police brutality on the 18th, Katehi took to the stage at the Occupy GA on campus Monday, and offered an apology for the incident.

“It is my responsibility to earn your trust… I hope that I will have a better opportunity to work with you, to meet you, to get to know you, and there will be many opportunities in the next few weeks to do that,” she said, before walking off stage amidst further cries demanding her resignation.

Whether these are empty words or not has yet to be seen. As of this writing, Katehi has made no concrete plans to address the demands of the Occupy movement on-campus, ensure the police officers responsible for the brutality are fired, or give students real opportunities to be involved in decisions on their campus.

During a question-and-answer session on Tuesday, Katehi and other administrators apologized for the violence, but Katehi again stated that she will not step down.

Needless to say, it’s not anyone at Ohio State’s role – or the role of anyone outside of the UC system – to determine whether or not Katehi stay. But those of us who are surprised by the campus community holding her responsible need to look at her history as well as her present failures.

The entire UC system has a history of protest and student dissatisfaction, but when you consider Katehi’s failure to adequately address issues over time, it is little wonder that there is a widespread call for her to step down.

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