A peaceful protest Friday seeking the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi morphed into an administrative building sit-in with 35 students and protesters criticizing her acceptance of questionable board seats.
Katehi, 62, has been under fire since The Sacramento Bee reported last week that she accepted a paid seat on the board of DeVry Education Group as the for-profit company faces federal allegations of exaggerated job placement claims. She drew further criticism and calls for resignation from two state lawmakers after The Bee reported she received $420,000 in three years for serving on the board of textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons.
She has since apologized, resigned her DeVry position and pledged $200,000 in Wiley stock toward a student scholarship fund.
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In a letter to UC Davis deans and vice chancellors this week, Katehi called her acceptance of the DeVry seat an “error” and apologized for “my mistake.” But she defended her stint on the Wiley board from 2011-2014 as a way to “help Wiley improve the quality of its educational materials, while making them more accessible and affordable for students.”
Katehi also indicated she would continue to accept board appointments, though she pledged to follow UC protocols and be more selective.
“Service on private and public boards is widely recognized as a responsibility of academic leaders,” she said. “As a woman and a STEM scholar, my service has helped correct the chronic lack of diversity on a number of boards.”
On Friday, Katehi was not in her Mrak Hall office, and students were instead greeted by Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Adela de la Torre, who offered to order them vegetarian and vegan pizzas.
“Where is she, at one of her other jobs?” one student asked.
De la Torre continued to explain Katehi was not available, and the students began trying to distribute a four-paragraph resignation letter they had prepared for her. They taped copies of the letter on the walls, doors and artwork in the fifth-floor office lobby.
De la Torre returned after about 15 minutes and explained that the chancellor would not meet with them, and that they could make an appointment to see her later. That resulted in loud chants of “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Chancellor Katehi has got to go!”
The protest organized by the UC Student Workers Union began shortly after noon outside the Memorial Union, where a group off about 25 students slowly gathered in the rain. As they marched across campus to Mrak Hall, the crowd began to grow slowly.
Students said they were spurred against Katehi over her membership on private corporate boards, which they said was an insult to students burdened with debt. Many also cited the 2011 pepper-spraying of students during a protest then as a genesis of the march.
“It’s the fact that she was sitting on a for-profit university that is under federal investigation,” said Emily Breuninger, 27, a graduate student from Indiana. “It’s just a clear example of how she doesn’t care about the students.”
UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis said in response to the protest, “Chancellor Katehi respects the students’ rights of freedom of expression, and she encourages civil discourse.”
Students also took issue with Katehi’s service between 2012-13 on the international advisory board of King Abdulaziz University, a school based in Saudi Arabia. That institution drew scrutiny in 2011 when the journal Science alleged that it was paying renowned scholars to list King Abdulaziz University on research citations to improve the school’s international ranking.
Katehi received no compensation from King Abdulaziz University and didn’t attend board meetings because of scheduling challenges, Topousis said. Katehi included the KAU board among her past memberships in her 2015 chancellor’s report, but not on UC or state disclosure forms for paid board service.
UC Davis biology professor Jonathan Eisen told The Bee he received emails in 2013 and again in 2014 from people representing themselves as officials of King Abdulaziz University. They asked if he would join their “Highly Cited Professor Initiative,” which paid $6,000 a month. In exchange, Eisen would be required to add the university’s name to his future work and to amend his affiliations on a website that tracks citations of past research. A high number of citations can push a school higher in international rankings.
“I didn’t do it because it seemed unethical in the first place,” Eisen said. “The state of California pays my salary and I’m really committed to doing stuff for the students of Davis and the state of California, and selling my citations to a University in Saudi Arabia … seemed completely morally and ethically wrong.”
Topousis said Katehi’s appointment complied with University of California policies. Asked whether Katehi participated in conference calls or any other way, Topousis repeated that the chancellor did not attend board meetings.
“She accepted the invitation to serve on the board to help improve the diversity of the institution’s students and to increase students’ interest in pursuing STEM disciplines,” Topousis said.
Katehi listed 19 past and present board memberships on last year’s chancellor’s report. They ranged from the Olin College President’s Advisory Board from 2009-2013 to the board of the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council, whose CEO issued a statement in Katehi’s defense last week.
After being told Friday the chancellor wasn’t coming back to Mrak Hall, the group settled in on chairs and the floor until a Pizza Guys delivery man showed up with a half-dozen pizzas that the group quickly devoured.
Then, they quietly discussed how long they planned to spend occupying her office. Brueninger said Friday evening that they had decided to stay overnight, then likely would leave Saturday and return Monday. Since the pepper spray incident, she said, students have been allowed to occupy a campus building for one night.
Unlike the protests of 2011, when crowds swelled into the thousands and a tent city sprang up to demonstrate against the pepper spraying of students, Friday’s event was peaceful and, mostly, polite.