University of California regents drew a low turnout Tuesday when they convened their only Sacramento meetings this year, less than two weeks after UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi was suspended pending an ethics investigation.
Among those on hand were five UC Davis faculty members who offered support for Katehi during the public comment period at the Sacramento Convention Center.
Katehi, 62, was placed on paid leave April 27 by UC President Janet Napolitano as an outside investigator examines allegations of nepotism, misuse of student funds and “material misstatements” regarding her involvement in hiring firms to enhance the reputation of the university and Katehi in search engine results.
Katehi has denied wrongdoing and her attorney, Melinda Guzman, has labeled Napolitano’s actions a “smear campaign.”
The professors said UC Davis had accomplished many positive things under Katehi’s leadership, such as enrolling more California undergraduate students than any other UC campus and becoming a leader in science, technology, engineering and math studies for women.
Walter Leal, a biochemistry professor, brought a letter supporting the chancellor that he said was signed by 55 faculty members.
“I am appalled by the fact that this is the first time in the history of this wonderful institution we see on employee tried in the court of public opinion,” he said.
Jodi Nunnari, a professor of molecular and cellular biology, said she was unhappy that faculty weren’t consulted before Katehi was put on leave.
“I joined the university, in part, because I was attracted by the principal of shared governance,” she said, referring to UC’s history of empowering faculty through the Academic Senate.
UC regents are scheduled to meet in Sacramento through Thursday. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who sits on the UC Board of Regents, said last month he expected regents to discuss Katehi’s situation during a closed-door personnel meeting this week, though her name does not appear on the agenda.
Newsom called on her to resign after Napolitano placed Katehi on leave. But other regents said they were taking a more cautious approach and wanted to see more concrete evidence. Napolitano informed regents on a conference call of her plans to suspend Katehi shortly before announcing the move publicly.
Napolitano can propose dismissing Katehi, but the regents would have to vote to remove her, according to UC Office of the President spokeswoman Dianne Klein.
The Sacramento Bee reported that UC Davis spent at least $175,000 on consultants hired to cleanse pepper spray references from search engine results for the chancellor and university. The Bee also reported in March that Katehi served on paid corporate boards for DeVry Education Group and textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons, which critics said conflicted with her role as a public university chancellor. Katehi resigned from the DeVry board and said it was a mistake to accept that position without Napolitano’s approval.
The Katehi investigation is being led by San Francisco attorney Melinda Haag, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California. Haag will be working with McGregor Scott, a Sacramento attorney who was U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California.
A decision on Katehi’s future is expected by Aug. 1, when the investigation should be complete. Katehi has been chancellor since 2009. Provost Ralph J. Hexter is serving as acting chancellor in her absence.