UC Davis chancellor, protesters have unproductive encounter

UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi briefly met Tuesday with students who have camped outside her office for more than four days to demonstrate against her service on paid corporate boards, and protesters said they plan to stay put after the conversation went nowhere.

Based on a video provided by a UC Davis student, Katehi arrived with two professors and a third, unidentified person, seeking to schedule a time to meet Wednesday. The students objected to having a meeting elsewhere and asked her to discuss her paid board positions as she stood in the lobby area Tuesday. Some asked her directly whether she would resign, a question she did not respond to.

Katehi, 62, has faced criticism since The Sacramento Bee reported earlier this month that she accepted a paid board 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.

Last week, she apologized, resigned the DeVry position and pledged $200,000 in Wiley stock toward a student scholarship fund.

Protester Emily Breuninger, 27, a graduate student, said the Tuesday meeting was brief – only lasting a few minutes – and that the chancellor was mostly silent, choosing to leave most of the talking up to two others who identified themselves in the video as professors of computer science and anthropology.

In the video, the chancellor initially said she was there Tuesday to hear their concerns and offered to have a discussion with the protesters at a later date.

“We want you to resign, a lot of people want you to resign,” one student is heard saying. “So are you going to resign?”

Katehi began to talk about having a discussion, but was interrupted. “Did you actually hear what I just said?” the student asked.

After some protesters accused Katehi of privatizing the university and working against student interests to her own benefit, Katehi responded in the video that “a lot of what was said is totally incorrect and untrue. If you want to sit down and have a discussion and take each one of those, I’m willing to do that. I will bring my team because, these issues, I’m not the only person as a leader of this institution that makes decisions.”

Soon after, Katehi said she and her team of administrators would meet with the students Wednesday. She then walked away and a door was heard closing behind her. The two professors stayed for a few more minutes, but the conversation appeared to be unproductive.

Protesters said they were “outraged” that Katehi didn’t show up until the fifth day of the protest, which began Friday. The students said afterward that they weren’t satisfied with the brief meeting and would continue to camp out in the administration building.

“Ultimately our overall goal is her resignation, and we have yet to see progress on that front,” Breuninger said. “After seeing the way she behaved when she graced us with (her) presence, it reaffirms our commitment. It’s very clear her goals and her heart are not in alignment with the student body.”

Students said they were spurred to protest against Katehi over her membership on private corporate boards, which they said were an insult to students burdened with debt. Many also cited the 2011 pepper-spraying of student protesters as the genesis of the current demonstration.

The UC Davis media relations office issued a brief statement Tuesday titled “Updated on Student Protest.”

“Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi met at 2 p.m. today with the students on the 5th floor of Mrak Hall to listen to their concerns,” the statement read. “She offered to meet with them again this week to continue the discussion.”

The students did not make an appointment for further talks with Katehi. “We wanted to meet her here and now,” Breuninger said. “We want to be on equal footing.”

Breuninger said the meeting left her “further enraged and disgusted.”

Katehi has not been seen at her Mrak Hall office since the protest began Friday. Protesters were initially greeted by administrators with vegetarian and vegan pizzas, but the welcome eventually faded and they were threatened Monday with reprimands that could include expulsion if they do not leave.

Katehi’s visit came as students on campus continued to help the protesters with contributions of food, online expressions of support and calls for Katehi to be dismissed.

The UC Student Workers Union Local 2865 issued a resolution asking for Katehi to be dismissed. The union said it represents 13,000 workers, including teaching assistants, tutors and graduate instructors.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert

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