After months of unnecessary pain and humiliation for both herself and the campus she once led so proudly, UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi has resigned amid findings that she violated university policy and misled her bosses and the public. The decision is both deeply saddening and an institutional relief.
A stellar school, UC Davis routinely ranks among the nation’s best in public higher education. Its undergraduates are smart and diverse, its faculty is top notch, its research is groundbreaking and its veterinary school is world famous.
But in the seven years since Katehi arrived, and despite her contributions, she has been at the center of one unseemly drama after another.
The most notable example created a viral internet sensation in 2011 after campus police pepper-sprayed students who were peacefully protesting. There were calls for her resignation then, but Katehi overcame them.
Unfortunately, the pepper-spray incident was just one among several increasingly troubling misjudgments. This year, after she accepted, without permission, a highly paid seat on a board overseeing a for-profit college under federal investigation, the controversy prompted fresh media scrutiny.
That unearthed more revelations, including that Katehi had engineered the hiring of social media firms to bury negative postings about herself and the campus, and then insisted – repeatedly, publicly and, as it turns out, falsely – that she had had nothing to do with it.
We won’t belabor all the questions about policy violations covered in the independent review of Katehi’s conduct that was ultimately commissioned by UC President Janet Napolitano. Several serious concerns – misuse of student fees and direct nepotism, for example – were not borne out. Others, such as her lack of candor with the public and Napolitano, were amply documented.
But the fact that there had to be such a review at all is illustrative of the general combativeness and smoke-blowing that characterized Katehi’s tenure. Chancellors are “at will” employees and can be fired without cause. Most executives in her situation would have quietly resigned and returned to teaching months ago, given the situation and the extensive documentation in the public record.
The review became necessary this spring after Katehi agreed to Napolitano’s demand for her resignation, but then sent a communiqué to faculty implying that she didn’t intend to go.
In other words, drama. And drama unworthy both of Katehi’s successes as an administrator and a scholar and of the good work being done at UC Davis. It’s not easy to be a University of California chancellor; the job is complex, crucial and perhaps impossibly high profile, but it’s worth noting that the campus has been calm and productive in the months that acting Chancellor Ralph Hexter has been in charge.
To that end, we hope that the national search for Katehi’s replacement will focus not only on building on her strengths – fundraising, regional relations, strategic thinking – but also on finding a steady hand to help UC Davis get back to normal. Everyone involved deserves to put this chapter behind them and move on.