Ted Rall / TedRall.com

Editorial: Katehi must be bold to regain trust

Published: Sunday, Apr. 15, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 6E
Last Modified: Sunday, Apr. 15, 2012 - 9:00 am

Protests on college and university campuses – including civil disobedience, disruption and, sometimes, violence – are not uncommon. In the current confluence of student and faculty concerns about the direction of the public higher education – and nationwide protests about inequality and economic change – wise university administrators prepare appropriately.

They reach out to students and faculty. They set clear guidelines for time, manner and place of protests. They prepare for demonstrations – including training and planning for students affairs staff and campus police. They meet with protesters to attempt to defuse situations. They prepare for the unexpected – what if a crowd gets out of control?

The UC Davis administration, led by Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, failed these basics, resulting in overreaction to a small camp in the quad in the days leading up to the Thanksgiving break, when students leave campus. That failure has allowed a relatively common activity on campuses to turn into a major distraction that went viral on the Web.

At the same time, the Nov. 18 incident – and the independent assessment released last week – have revealed serious institutional weaknesses at UC Davis.

In the coming days, not weeks or months, Chancellor Katehi has to lead through this. Her initial response was to stay out of the public eye and not to comment on the substance of the Reynoso task force report. She needs to engage with students, faculty and the larger public – and state explicitly what things are wrong at the university that she intends to fix, right away.

The first action item has to be the Police Department. Police Chief Annette Spicuzza clearly has no authority over her subordinates, does not adequately express police concerns to administrators, does not attend key police operations briefings and has not established standards and protocols Californians should expect in a professional campus police department. The department needs a new chief. Katehi should say so, and get a search going.

Katehi also needs to take a hard look at her leadership team.

Vice Chancellor John Meyer exercised administrative responsibility over the campus Police Department. Was he aware, as the report excruciatingly detailed, that the command and leadership structure of the campus department was "very dysfunctional"? If not, why not? If yes, what did he do about it?

In the days and hours leading up to the police confrontation with protesters, did Meyer take steps to determine if police leadership had concerns about the operation and ensure any concerns were evaluated by the leadership team? If not, that's a major failure of duty.

The report indicates that "No members of the Leadership Team took responsibility for ensuring that all the members of the team including the Police Chief had a common understanding of the scope and conduct of the police operation to be executed on Nov. 18" – something that logically would fall under Meyer's purview.

Student Affairs Vice Chancellor Fred Wood also shares responsibility. One of his subordinates, who had been meeting with protesters, told the leadership team that the encampment and protest were primarily students and that use of police to remove tents was premature and counterproductive. She was met with silence. When subordinates raise legitimate concerns and are met with silence, what does that say about the decision-making climate?

In the end, the flawed decision-making structure rests with Katehi herself. She needs to announce changes immediately.

All eyes are on Katehi. Her actions will show whether this moment highlights her leadership skills in making needed changes – or accentuates problems revealed by the Nov. 18 incident.

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