It’s natural after an upheaval to look for lessons. But as the University of California gears up to replace UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, it will be important to remember what the lessons of her resignation are not.
They are not, for example, that the next chancellor should be her opposite in every aspect.
An accomplished engineer and scholar, Katehi resigned last week after she was found to have violated university policy and misled her bosses and the public. Her human lapses are now famous: the “pepper-spray incident” in which campus police abused student protesters; the effort to scrub references to it and her own name from “the Google”; the joining of corporate boards that reflected poorly on UC; the first-class travel. The lack of candor she showed, when pressed.
But Katehi had strengths, too. She raised millions of dollars for UC Davis, was strategic and worked exceptionally well with the business community in Sacramento. She thought big.
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Those strengths benefited the campus. UC Davis routinely places highly in public university rankings, was recently named the best school in the nation for women in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – and just had its best fundraising year ever.
While the next chancellor should have the diplomatic skills, emotional intelligence and good judgment to restore equilibrium at UC Davis, the search committee shouldn’t over-correct.
So while her replacement must possess the diplomacy, emotional intelligence and good judgment to restore equilibrium at UC Davis, the search committee shouldn’t overcorrect.
For instance, Katehi’s board memberships were problematic and her travel expenses raised eyebrows, but that shouldn’t diminish the next chancellor’s perks and pay more than it already has. The Davis faculty won’t settle for less than a scholar with impeccable academic credentials, and such candidates often have lots of options. As it is, because of this controversy, UC had to tighten its policy on paid outside board seats – one of the few plums it could offer prospective hires in lieu of higher salary.
Nor should her successor have less ambition – for anyone on campus. The humanities at Davis have tended to play second fiddle to the sciences, and the next chancellor should try to restore some balance; if nothing else, Katehi’s story underscores the enduring relevance of Greek tragedy. But in agriculture and tech, the campus is the food industry’s answer to Stanford and Silicon Valley. That side needs a culture that will develop it entrepreneurially.
The next chancellor also must maintain Katehi’s willingness to work with the region. From its housing crunch to its demographics, Davis is shaped by the campus, and Sacramento would love to see more of the school’s specialized programs shift to its end of the causeway. To that end, we hope that the search committee appointments – drawn by law from regents, faculty, donors, staff, students and alumni – will include the region’s civic leaders who will give the community a say.
Naming a new chancellor will take months, which makes sense. It’s a complex job. Let’s use the time wisely, to build on past successes – including Katehi’s – and be smart in the lessons we take away.