UC president backs new UC Davis chief

Linda Katehi poses on the campus of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2009, the year she was hired to be chancellor of UC Davis.
Linda Katehi poses on the campus of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2009, the year she was hired to be chancellor of UC Davis. Associated Press

Editor’s note: This story originally was published on June 18, 2009.

University of California officials are standing firmly behind their selection of Linda Katehi as UC Davis chancellor, despite a scandal brewing in a department she oversees as provost at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The position of UC President Mark Yudof, who had recommended Katehi for the position, “is that he’s 100 percent behind her and has no reason not to be, “ said spokesman Peter King.

A Chicago Tribune investigation last month reported that the Illinois university had put hundreds of applicants -- some with weak academic records -- on a list for special consideration after influential people lobbied on their behalf. The investigation looked at documents and e-mails from 2005 to the present.

Katehi has served for three years as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, the chief academic and budget officer for the campus.

Tuesday Katehi reasserted that she had no knowledge of the special list of admissions referred to as Category I.

“This is the truth, “ she said. “I have not been involved.”

A review of 1,800 pages of documents related to the case and released to the Tribune shows Katehi’s name about 50 times. The bulk of the e-mails are from the office of Chancellor Richard Herman to members of Katehi’s staff.

But her name is in the chain of distribution, most commonly as a “cc.”

In an e-mail to Katehi from trustee Robert Sperling, he writes: “(redacted) is on your list. A Stevenson grad with an excellent semester.”

Katehi passed the e-mail on to Vice Provost Ruth Watkins and Debbie Kincaid, assistant to Keith Marshall, the associate provost for enrollment. Kincaid then sent it to Marshall with this note: “For the Cat I file.”

Katehi couldn’t recall the January 2008 e-mail Tuesday but said she most likely thought Sperling was referring to the school’s waiting list.

In another e-mail, Herman relayed a trustee’s interest in a student’s transfer to the school of business. “He will be writing for confirmation. Would like this done by the next board meeting, “ Herman wrote.

Katehi responded: “We will speak to Larry (DeBrock) and will keep you updated.”

Katehi told The Bee she simply was passing on a request to the dean of the business school for his consideration.

Another e-mail from Herman to Marshall and Watkins, copied to Katehi, asks them to check on an applicant Herman calls “a terrific candidate with a father who is a tremendous public servant.”

The e-mail string includes a missive from the girl’s parent thanking Sperling for having lunch with him and asking about his daughter’s transfer application.

Katehi said Tuesday that a lot of inquiries are from parents of students with excellent records who would have been admitted in any case.

She said that during her three years as provost nothing unusual attracted her attention in any of the e-mails that came to her. She said she believed the e-mails were standard requests to check the status of applications for admission.

The documents obtained by the Tribune show that Watkins, Kincaid, Marshall and others in the provost’s office, including an administrative assistant, handled Category I requests on a regular basis. All worked for Katehi.

Yet, Katehi sent an e-mail to UC Davis officials Monday, saying “the Category I admissions process was handled at a higher level.”

She clarified that statement during an interview Tuesday, saying that Marshall and others dealing with Category I admissions reported to people above her.

“I was totally out of the loop, “ Katehi said.

She said the admissions process was in place before she arrived at the school.

“I never questioned it because I never knew it existed, “ she said.

On Tuesday, according to a Tribune report, Associate Provost Marshall testified that decisions about applicants often were overruled by higher-ups, particularly Chancellor Herman. Marshall said he took his directions from Herman, the Tribune reported.

Marshall was testifying before the Admissions Review Commission convened in Chicago by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. Katehi said she is not on the list of people being called to testify.

She said her decision to leave the University of Illinois has nothing to do with the scandal. “I decided to come to UC Davis because it’s a great school, “ she said.

Monday Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, called for an investigation into Katehi’s role in the controversy. But UC officials said they won’t be doing one.

“We feel lucky to have her, “ said UC spokesman King. He called Katehi a “rock star in the world of engineering.”

Before working at Urbana-Champaign, Katehi was the dean of engineering and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University. Before that she was associate dean for academic affairs and graduate education in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

King said Katehi’s $400,000 salary is 25 percent less than what is earned by chancellors at similar universities. The chancellor also will be provided with housing, a $9,000 annual car allowance and a $100,000 relocation allowance, as well as moving expenses, among other benefits.

Her husband, Spyros Tseregounis, who holds an adjunct faculty position at the University of Illinois, will be considered for a similar appointment at Davis, said university officials.

Katehi, a 55-year-old native of Greece, will start her new job on Aug. 17.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert