The Final Straw at UC Davis

Linda Katehi has held on as chancellor despite numerous controversies, but she is placed on leave over issues related to employing her daughter-in-law.

April 28, 2016
Linda P. B. Katehi

Linda P. B. Katehi survived as chancellor of the University of California at Davis after an incident in 2011 where campus police used pepper spray against students engaged in a nonviolent protest. And she survived other controversies in the years since -- even as some students and faculty members demanded her ouster.

But on Wednesday evening, she was placed on administrative leave, in part over allegations that haven't been the dominant issues for those demanding her ouster.

Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California System, placed Katehi on leave, citing possible "serious violations" of university policy with regard to conflict of interest and the employment of family members. A letter from Napolitano to Katehi said that the chancellor's daughter-in-law has received "promotions and salary increases over a two-and-a-half-year period that have increased her pay by over $50,000 and have resulted in several title changes. During that same period, you put forward a pay increase of over 20 percent and a title change for your daughter-in-law's supervisor."

Further, Napolitano's letter said, the academic program that employs Katehi's son has been moved into the department where her daughter-in-law works, and "placed under her direct supervision."

The letter said that it "does not appear that appropriate steps were taken to address, document or obtain approval for the fact that your son now reported to your daughter-in-law, who, in turn, was supervised by one of your direct reports." An independent investigation will now be launched, Napolitano said

The news about Katehi's leave followed a day in which there were conflicting indications about her job status. The Sacramento Bee reported, before the leave was announced, that Katehi called off some events Wednesday. Adding to the speculation, a spokeswoman for Napolitano told the Bee that “Katehi is still chancellor,” but did not respond to questions about whether Napolitano has asked her to resign.

Later on Wednesday, however, Katehi indicated that she was not going anywhere, sending out an email saying, “I am 100 percent committed to serving as chancellor of UC Davis.”

And it appears Katehi will continue to fight for her job. A statement released by her lawyer, Melinda Guzman, said: “Tonight’s action is disappointing, unprecedented and, based on the facts, entirely unjustified …. This smacks of scapegoating and a rush to judgment driven purely by political optics, not the best interests of the university or the UC system as a whole.”

Statements on Latest Controversy Over Pepper Spray Incident

The questions about Katehi's family members are not the only issues noted in Napolitano's letter. It also references a controversy that broke this month when The Sacramento Bee revealed: “UC Davis spent thousands to scrub pepper-spray references from Internet.” The university had been trying to pay a company to flood the Internet with items about Davis so that Google searches about the university wouldn't start with the pepper-spray incident.

On this issue, Napolitano's letter cited “concerns regarding whether you have made material misstatements regarding your role in the social media contracts.” Napolitano wrote that Katehi has made “public statements to members of the media, as well as to me, that you were not aware of or involved with these particular contracts.” But the university, in preparing a response to a public records request, found documents that “indicate multiple interactions with one of the vendors and efforts to set up meetings with the other.”

“Misrepresentations made in the course and scope of employment raise concerns about whether such statements are consistent with the university's standards of ethical conduct,” Napolitano wrote.

The letter also briefly referenced a controversy -- in which Napolitano defended Katehi -- in which the Davis leader accepted and then quickly resigned from a seat on the corporate board of the DeVry Education Group, which operates DeVry University. Many have criticized Katehi for accepting the board seat. She did so without receiving permission from Napolitano, a violation of UC policy.

Napolitano's letter to Katehi said that she has “done some great work for UC Davis,” and that Napolitano was “deeply disappointed” to take this action. But Napolitano said she needed to act because of the “accumulation of matters that require investigation.”

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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