By the time voting closes today, more than 2,600 faculty members at UC Davis will have had an opportunity to weigh in on whether they have confidence in Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi or whether that confidence is gone after November's pepper-spraying of Occupy UC Davis protesters.
Though nonbinding, the vote on competing motions before the Academic Senate is a rare judgment by faculty on a chancellor's ability to lead and could influence decisions on Katehi's future by University of California leaders.
The crisis was sparked by the Nov. 18 pepper-spraying, in which campus police doused seated protesters with the orange irritant, and a viral video of the episode prompted international outrage. But for some professors, the confidence/no-confidence vote on Katehi transcends the actual incident.
Instead, it represents a vote of approval or disapproval on the direction Katehi, 57, is taking UC Davis 2 1/2 years into her tenure.
More broadly, faculty members say, the vote is a commentary on the direction the University of California system is moving as state funding is cut and UC Davis, like other UC campuses, pursues higher tuition from out-of-state students, private donations, and federal and corporate research grants.
It's a funding model traditionally associated with private universities, not the publicly funded institutions with low fees that the state envisioned in its Master Plan for Higher Education of 1960.
Faculty members call the trend "privatization."
"A lot of us are deeply worried about the university and its future," said philosophy professor Robert May, one of Katehi's critics. "I think this is what's really going on. The treatment of students was just a flash point to bring out those issues."
Katehi declined to speak to The Bee for this story. Her second-in-command, university Provost Ralph Hexter, said she did not want to appear to be trying to influence the faculty vote. "There's nothing she could say that wouldn't be seen as positioning or posturing," he said.
Meanwhile, a heated debate among faculty members has informed the online voting, which began Feb. 3 and closes at 5 p.m. today.
There are four competing motions, each signed by dozens of faculty members and published on the Senate's website along with statements of support and opposition.
One, titled "Motion Concerning the Chancellor's Judgment," cites the pepper-spraying and an email sent by Katehi to faculty "in which she admitted that she had ordered the police to take action against the students who were demonstrating on the quadrangle and said that she had had 'no option' but to proceed in this way." It also says she failed to act effectively to resolve the resulting crisis.
"Be it therefore resolved that the Davis Division of the Senate of the University of California lacks confidence in the leadership of Chancellor Katehi, and be it also resolved that the result of the vote on this motion be communicated to the Board of Regents and the President of the University of California," it says.
A second motion called the "Five-Resolution Vote of Confidence," condemns the dispatching of police to deal with nonviolent protesters and what it calls the "use of excessive force that led to the deplorable pepper-spraying events of November 18, 2011."
But it goes on to accept "Chancellor Linda Katehi's good faith apology" and "expresses confidence in Chancellor Linda Katehi's leadership and efforts to place UC Davis among the top 5 public universities in the nation."
A third motion criticizes the police actions, and a fourth, which was introduced later and will be voted on in coming weeks, is a simplified two-resolution motion of confidence in Katehi.
A majority of those who vote will decide the motions.
A no-confidence vote in 2006 against former UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef failed, 734 to 320, with about 40 percent of eligible members of the Academic Senate voting.
Those who can vote include active and retired members of the professorial ranks.
A new model for growth
Academic Senate Chairwoman Linda Bisson said there's a feeling among some faculty members that the resolutions are premature because a number of investigations of the pepper-spraying incident have yet to produce results.
They include a review initiated by the UC Office of the President and led by former state Supreme Court Justice and retired UC Davis law professor Cruz Reynoso. The findings of that probe won't be made public until next month, Reynoso told UC President Mark Yudof in a letter Wednesday.
But for many impassioned voters, the findings are irrelevant, Bisson said. They have made up their minds about Katehi with regard to the pepper-spraying and are eager to cast a vote on her performance as chancellor.
To those faculty members, "It's a much more global thing. It doesn't matter what happened Nov. 18," she said.
Some who feel most strongly have been expressing their views for weeks in an effort to sway colleagues. Their arguments often link the pepper-spraying to the larger debate pervading all the UC campuses over rising costs and shrinking revenue.
In recent years, state funding for the University of California has dropped 27 percent, from $3.25 billion in fiscal year 2007-08 to $2.37 billion in 2011-12, according to the UC Office of the President.
Layoffs, bigger class sizes and delays in faculty hiring are among the consequences.
At the same time, student tuition and fees have increased. Last July, the regents approved a tuition and fee hike of nearly 10 percent or more than $1,000 for this academic year. That was on top of an 8 percent increase approved in November 2010.
The increases raised tuition and fees to more than $12,000 annually systemwide. Additional campus-based fees pushed the average student's tuition bill for the 2011-12 academic year to more than $15,000 at UC Davis.
Amid the economic shifts, university officials have been seeking new revenue from out-of-state tuition, fundraising and research funding.
Katehi's initiatives at UC Davis are seen by many as representative of the University of California's direction as a whole.
For instance, last September, Katehi said the university planned to add 5,000 students, many of them from other states or countries, partly to bring in the higher tuition they pay. Tuition and fees for a nonresident student top $38,000 annually at UC Davis.
The university recently announced it had raised $750 million for a $1 billion fundraising campaign launched in the fall of 2010 with the goal of bolstering scholarships and supporting faculty. Katehi told students at a housing forum in January that a $2 billion campaign could be next.
Research funding has been on the rise, too. The Davis campus brought in $62 million more in federal, state, corporate and foundation grants last fiscal year than in the year Katehi arrived, campus officials said. Funding rose from $622 million in 2008-09 to $684 million in 2010-11.
At the same time, Katehi has been reaching out to the corporate world and wealthy alumni. She put together a chancellor's advisory board that includes academic administrators as well as Riley Bechtel, the billionaire CEO of engineering giant Bechtel Corp., and John S. Watson, chairman and CEO of Chevron Corp. Both are UC Davis graduates.
Applause and barbs
Katehi's supporters applaud her efforts.
Entomology professor Walter Leal, who was the first to sign the motion of confidence in the chancellor, said she brought ambition and morale to campus when she arrived in 2009.
"She's a wonderful chancellor," Leal said. "She has done so much in difficult times."
"She brought energy to campus. Endowment money. She's enthusiastic. She goes to these people. She explains what the vision is for the university. She wants to put this university as one of the top five public universities in the country. This is a wonderful move."
Hexter, the UC Davis provost, said Katehi's strategy of bringing in outside dollars is bound to benefit the entire campus, not just the departments that win grants and donations.
"You bring in resources where you can and that releases money in our budget for other areas," he said.
Critics, however, see Katehi and Yudof as taking the university toward a funding model that has more in common with private universities like Stanford or the University of Southern California than the state-funded UC of past decades.
May, the philosophy professor, said he expects the costs of attending UC to keep rising under the current administration, even with more outside funding.
"I think Katehi and Yudof are saying we have to maintain an outstanding research university but have to give up on affordability," he said.
Academic departments in the social sciences and humanities, including philosophy, are being starved for resources while Katehi bolsters the business, science and engineering departments that bring in money, he said.
"I haven't seen her since she set foot on campus," May said. "She has spent a lot of time with the sciences the med school, the vet school and the ag school. Those are the people that bring in funds to the university. They have grants. The people who support her are the people who bring in funds to the university."
Another philosophy professor, Aldo Antonelli, said "students are paying more for less." Those evicted from camping on the quad and pepper-sprayed Nov. 18 were reacting in part to tuition increases, larger class sizes and more limited services, he said.
"A smart administrator would have tried to defuse the situation and work with the students," Antonelli said. "I think it was badly misjudged."
Is the model sustainable?
Experts cautioned that a sense of perspective and a re-examination of UC goals is needed in the debate.
Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said rising costs at UC campuses are a real concern. But there's a long way to go before UC tuition and fees approach the cost of attending Stanford or USC. Both have tuition in excess of $40,000 per year, he noted.
The question, he said, is: "Are we drifting into some quasi-privatization mode where we have all the liabilities of a public university and all the liabilities of a private university, with the advantages of neither?"
As an example, he cited the current UC model of seeking full tuition from wealthier Californians and higher tuition from out-of-state students, while giving heavy financial aid to low-income state residents. Under the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, tuition and fees are covered for eligible students with family incomes under $80,000.
That "high-tuition, high-aid" model isn't sustainable long-term and it puts the middle class saddled with higher tuition but lacking financial aid in a squeeze, Callan said.
"The truth is, nobody thinks we're going to have 1965 or 1975 back under the most rosy scenario," he said. "Yet no one seems to have any ideas other than to keep raising tuition and keep raising money."
That's not the case, UC officials contend.
Nathan Brostrom, the executive vice president for business operations in the UC Office of the President, said leaders are striving to cut costs through streamlining, including by implementing a common student health insurance plan and standardized payroll system across campuses.
Meanwhile, leaders are working with the Governor's Office and Legislature to plan for more modest and predictable tuition increases instead of the leaps and lulls, based on volatile state funding, that have been the norm the past two decades.
With per-student state funding down 60 percent since 1990, critics need a dose of economic realism, Brostrom said. Seeking new revenue streams including by raising funds, winning grants and admitting more out-of-state students is part of UC's financial future, he said.
"Davis," he said, "has done that particularly well under Linda's leadership."