A former U.S. attorney from San Francisco was named Thursday to head the investigation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, who was suspended last week amid allegations of misuse of student funds, nepotism and misstatements about her role in an effort to scrub her image and the school’s in online postings.
Melinda Haag will head up the independent probe, according to an announcement from UC President Janet Napolitano’s office. As U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, Haag oversaw high-profile prosecutions that included Giants star Barry Bonds and former state Sen. Leland Yee.
Haag, a partner in the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, will work with McGregor Scott, another partner in the firm who is based in Sacramento and was U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California.
Napolitano’s office placed Katehi on a 90-day paid administrative leave last week and said the Haag investigation will be completed by Aug. 1.
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Katehi lawyer Melinda Guzman said she had not been notified of the appointment, but said Katehi has done nothing wrong. “We obviously want a fair, timely, thoughtful and transparent process,” Guzman said. “We believe that the allegations are wholly without merit.
“We look forward to receiving information from the Office of the President so we can engage in a meaningful process, one that we think will uphold the chancellor’s credibility and integrity in her profession.”
She noted in a statement she issued later Thursday that there is no evidence of criminal activity.
“It is unfortunate that President Napolitano is needlessly spending state resources hiring a criminal prosecutor when there is absolutely zero evidence to suggest there has been any criminal activity,” Guzman’s statement said. “This is yet another reckless, politically driven effort in the President’s smear campaign to suggest that something is wrong when the facts show otherwise and the Chancellor enjoys widespread community support.”
Katehi, who has been chancellor at UC Davis since 2009, was suspended over questions about the employment of her son and daughter-in-law, allegations that student funds were misused and whether she misrepresented her role in the hiring of two firms to enhance her image and that of UC Davis on the Internet following the 2011 pepper-spraying of students on campus.
Those firms were paid $175,000 for the effort, which backfired after it was revealed by The Sacramento Bee in a story in mid-April – triggering a new round of controversy. Katehi already was under pressure from students who had occupied a lobby outside her office at Mrak Hall for five weeks protesting her decision to accept lucrative seats on corporate boards.
UC Office of the President spokeswoman Dianne Klein said the investigation’s cost will not be known until Haag completes her work. Klein said that Haag “has agreed to discount her rate.”
The allegations of the misuse of student funds are the result of a whistleblower complaint, according to a letter sent by Napolitano last week.
Napolitano did not reveal in her letter what particular whistleblower complaint was under investigation.
UC Davis graduate Paul Medved, a transportation project manager, recently contacted The Bee to draw attention to a whistleblower complaint he filed in November. He contends Katehi misused student fees by eliminating women’s rowing, men’s indoor track, wrestling, swimming and diving in 2010 and transferring approximately $2 million annually in student fees to academic programs, including physical education.
UC Davis students have paid the majority of the cost for athletics since 1993 after they voted for the Student Activities and Services Initiative, Medved said. The $344 annual fee supports sports programs, the cross cultural center, the women’s resources and research center, the equestrian center, the Pavilion and campus recreation programs, according to information from the university. Sports clubs and intramural sports are also supported by the Campus Expansion Initiative passed in 2003 by students. It adds $549 to annual tuition.
Medved said such student fees were not meant to pay for academic programs. “It amounts to a lie,” he said. “They lied to the students and they said they would have to lose those teams and 150 roster spots. That had to happen because of state budget cuts.”
He said none of the sports programs are supported by state money.
The group behind the complaint, which includes seven student athletes and former student athletes, will file a lawsuit if the university doesn’t comply with its demands, which include an apology from Katehi and a promise the university will honor the intent of student initiatives in the future. They are also calling for the reinstatement of at least women’s rowing and men’s wrestling and swimming and diving in time for the 2017-18 season without raising additional revenue.
A resolution from the UC Davis Academic Senate last week expresses concern over the abruptness of the decision to suspend Katehi and what it sees as a lack of communication from the Office of the President. The Senate asked that the investigation be completed in a month.
In the meantime, acting Chancellor Ralph Hexter named professor Ken Burtis acting provost Thursday. Burtis is a professor of genetics and the past dean of the College of Biological Science.