UC Davis professors are engaged in a battle of letters over the future of Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, with a general line emerging between critics in humanities departments and supporters who share her science background.
The chancellor has been under fire since The Sacramento Bee reported in early March that she had accepted a paid board seat with DeVry Education Group, which has been under federal scrutiny for allegedly exaggerating job placement and income statistics. The Bee also reported that Katehi was a paid member on the board of textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons, earning a total of $420,000 across the 2012 through 2014 fiscal years.
The chancellor resigned the DeVry post, which paid $70,000 annually, on March 1. She apologized and said she would donate $200,000 in Wiley & Sons stock toward student scholarships.
On Monday, 20 UC Davis humanities professors wrote a letter to local media supporting student protesters and calling for Katehi’s resignation.
The chancellor has “demonstrated poor judgment and weak ethical standards that have eroded our confidence in her leadership,” they stated. “She has enriched herself professionally and personally at the expense of the reputation of UC Davis and multiple legislators have now called for her resignation.”
That letter came after 33 faculty members – 32 of whom teach in science-based fields – sent a letter to The Bee in support of Katehi, who began her career as an engineering professor. On Tuesday, 67 faculty members, including 19 who signed the letter to The Bee, signed a petition to UC President Janet Napolitano supporting Katehi.
The letter to The Bee supporting Katehi noted that UC regents’ policy encourages chancellors to join boards and that dozens hold board positions, “many with higher remunerations and/or greater conflicts of interest than Chancellor Katehi’s.
“No one is calling for any other senior manager with board positions to resign from UC,” it read.
The petition to Napolitano was short: “We, the undersigned, wish to express our support for Chancellor Linda Katehi. Although the current issues regarding Outside Professional Activities by Senior Leadership warrant a full review by UCOP (the UC Office of the President) and the regents, they do not rise to the level of resignation.”
The 67 who signed that letter are primarily professors from science departments, although they include six law professors and one Spanish professor.
There are about 2,000 faculty members on campus, according to university spokeswoman Dana Topousis.
English professor Joshua Clover, who signed the letter calling for Katehi’s resignation, said UC Davis faculty members are split between those who support the chancellor and those who don’t. He said Katehi supporters generally teach in science departments, while opponents usually teach humanities.
She has enriched herself professionally and personally at the expense of the reputation of UC Davis and multiple legislators have now called for her resignation.
Letter from UC Davis faculty critical of Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi
He said humanities professors wrote their letter primarily to support the students who have occupied the reception area outside the chancellor’s office since March 11 in protest of Katehi’s board seats.
Katehi’s supporters said they wrote their letter to The Bee “because the level of incivility and rage in the protests against her is excessive and inhumane. She has acknowledged errors, and made amends. Yet personal attacks continue, including criticism on social media about her son and family,” it stated.
“We talk a lot about improving science, technology, engineering and math, and people on the other side of campus feel a little bit embattled,” said Michael R. Hill, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.
The professor, who signed both letters of support for Katehi, says he hasn’t been supportive of everything she has done at UC Davis.
“She had made some huge mistakes,” he said. “The pepper-spraying of students was an enormous mistake.”
That incident caused the chancellor to make changes at the university that resulted in UC Davis becoming more student-focused, Hill said.
We, the undersigned, wish to express our support for Chancellor Linda Katehi. Although the current issues regarding Outside Professional Activities by Senior Leadership warrant a full review by UCOP (the UC Office of the President) and the regents, they do not rise to the level of resignation.
Statement on a petition signed by 67 UC Davis faculty members
Hill said the effort to draft letters in support of Katehi was faculty-driven. He said he was approached by another professor because he is part of a campus group working to promote gender and racial diversity among the faculty, something the chancellor has championed.
The professor said he decided to sign the letter because he felt the opposition to Katehi has been driven, in part, by gender bias.
“The kind of piling on that we are seeing, these things kind of bother me personally and that makes me want to put my name on a letter,” he said.
The faculty letter calling for Katehi’s resignation was drafted over spring break and signed by tenured professors, who have job security, Clover said. It was not circulated among all of the school’s professors and they did not ask faculty members without tenure to sign it.
“If we had another month we could have 800 to 1,000 signatures, but we mostly wanted to get a letter out there,” he said.
State legislators have called a joint hearing Monday, April 4, hearing of the Assembly Higher Education Committee and the budget subcommittee on Education Finance to review the UC’s policy about outside compensation for top-level employees.
UC President Napolitano has defended the policy as adequate to prevent conflicts of interest.