UC Davis chancellor resigns following probe on ethical violations

UC Davis chancellor resigns following probe on ethical violations

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UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi resigned Tuesday after a three-month investigation into whether she violated University of California rules on nepotism, misused student fees and lied about her role in social media contracts.

Her attorney, Melinda Guzman, announced the resignation, which UC President Janet Napolitano has accepted. Katehi will stay on as chancellor emeritus and a university faculty member.

Guzman said the investigation cleared Katehi of all charges.

“Linda Katehi and her family have been exonerated from baseless accusations of nepotism, conflicts of interest, financial management and personal gain, just as we predicted and as the UC Davis Academic Senate found within days of this leave,” Guzman said.

But a UC spokeswoman said the investigation found the chancellor had “exercised poor judgment, not been candid with university leadership, and violated multiple university policies.”

“A search for Katehi’s successor will begin immediately. Ralph Hexter will continue to serve as the acting chancellor,” the spokeswoman said.

The investigation, ordered by Napolitano in April, focused on allegations that Katehi had violated conflict-of-interest rules in the hiring and promotion of her son and daughter-in-law at UC Davis. She was also accused of “material misstatements” to Napolitano in asserting that she had not been involved in hiring social media firms to scrub the Internet of references to campus police pepper-spraying of student protesters in 2011. The probe also examined charges of the misuse of student fees.

Katehi’s resignation marks the denouement of a high-profile — and highly unusual — public battle between a UC president and top administrator in the 10-campus system of 250,000 students. While conflicts are not unusual, they usually are handled quietly. In 2005, when UC President Robert Dynes opened a conflict-of-interest investigation into Provost M.R.C. Greenwood, for instance, she quickly resigned.

“There are plenty of cases where the system head and the campus leader come to blows, but the norm is that someone offers a settlement … with a nondisparagement clause and everyone smiles and agrees to move on,” said Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, a national online news and career site.

Not so with the Katehi case. For the last three months, proxies for the two women have traded charges over such matters as whether Katehi was failing to cooperate with UC, lying about her campus dealings or speaking out when she had promised to stay mum. The chancellor’s decision to hire an attorney and media consultant to make her case in public startled longtime UC watchers.

“To hire PR people and legal guns to publicly criticize your boss — it’s unbelievable,”  said one UC administrator, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case. “Bridges are being burned everywhere.”

Guzman said such steps were necessary to combat what she called “inaccuracies and incomplete information” disseminated by Napolitano’s office. Guzman said, for instance, that Katehi properly filed notifications to UC that her son, Erik Tseregounis, had been hired in 2014 to do graduate research and had become engaged to a UC Davis administrator, Emily Prieto, in 2015.

The Davis Academic Senate investigated and concluded that Katehi was not involved in the work, pay or promotions of her relatives.

Guzman also said that the outside investigators who interviewed Katehi last month presented her with no evidence that the chancellor had lied about her role in the social media contracts.

The resignation ends the UC ascent of a woman known as a brilliant electrical and computer engineering scholar and credited with raising $1 billion for student scholarships and other campus needs, boosting diversity and energizing faculty with big research ideas. The 62-year-old Greek immigrant, who holds several patents in electronic circuit design, pushed Davis to admit the largest number of California students on any UC campus. This year, Forbes magazine named Davis the best campus for women in STEM fields.

But critics said Katehi stumbled too many times. An independent report blamed her for failing to prevent campus police from pepper spraying students.  News of the Internet scrubbing and her additional moonlighting jobs led several legislators and the UC Student Assn. to call for her resignation.

The road to Katehi’s downfall began in March, when the Sacramento Bee reported that the chancellor had taken a $70,000-a-year board seat with the DeVry Education Group, a for-profit educational firm under federal investigation for allegedly defrauding students. The Bee subsequently reported that Katehi had also received $420,000 over three years for serving on the board of textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons — on top of her $424,360 annual salary.

Katehi had failed to obtain Napolitano’s permission for the DeVry seat, but the UC president initially stood by her. Katehi was hardly the only senior manager to moonlight. In 2014, 49 of UC’s 180 senior managers reported income from outside activities, totaling a combined $1.77 million.

But Katehi’s problems grew when the Bee reported on the efforts to bury Internet stories on the pepper spraying and to monitor the work of critics, including journalists. Then Napolitano’s office found documents indicating that the chancellor had misled the president in asserting she was not involved in the social media contracts, UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said.

Napolitano summoned Katehi to an April 25 meeting and asked for her resignation. Guzman said she gave Katehi two choices: resign completely from Davis or, if she exercised her rights to stay on as a faculty member, face an investigation of her family members.

Klein called that account “absolutely false.” Napolitano offered to help Katehi transition to a faculty position and “Katehi agreed to keep matters confidential so that a graceful exit could be arranged,” Klein said.

But Katehi refused to step down. On April 27, she sent an email to the UC Davis Council of Deans and Vice-Chancellors saying she was “100% committed” to continuing as chancellor. The email quickly was forwarded to all faculty members.

That infuriated Napolitano, who later that day informed Katehi she was placing her on paid administrative leave and appointing an  independent investigator.

Napolitano’s office released the letter to the media, which Katehi’s grievance calls an invasion of privacy.

But Klein said Katehi brought the attention on herself by publicly announcing her commitment to remain on the job. The action violated Katehi’s agreement with Napolitano to “avoid public statements or comments that might lead to significant public attention and make things more difficult to resolve,” Klein said.

“This action by the chancellor is what made the issue of her continued leadership at UC Davis a public one —not any action by the president,” Klein said. “The president wanted to resolve the issue quietly and made every effort to do so.”

Klein added that Napolitano simply could have fired Katehi, an at-will employee, but opted for an independent investigation to insure fairness and public transparency.

Guzman, however, said Napolitano and Katehi had made no agreement on public statements and that Katehi sent the email to calm the campus.

As the drama dragged on, Katehi’s faculty supporters began to resign themselves to her departure. While they remain concerned about Katehi’s due process, her faculty rights and what they viewed as Napolitano’s failure to consult adequately with the Academic Senate, many expressed a desire to move forward.

“The majority are in support [of Katehi] but they don’t think she can stay because of the chemistry. She doesn’t have a good working relationship with the president,” said Linda Bisson, an enology professor who headed the faculty search subcommittee that recommended Katehi in 2009.  “There’s too much bad blood between them.”

The public battle has dismayed some UC regents. John Perez, the former Assembly speaker, said Napolitano’s office has failed to keep the regents informed about the case.

He said he was upset that Katehi’s grievance letter to UC General Counsel Charles Robinson, for instance, was not shared with all regents as her attorney had requested. Perez also said he was concerned that a personnel matter was discussed so publicly before the private investigation was completed.

Others in academia, however, hailed Napolitano for acting decisively against a chancellor who repeatedly brought negative attention to UC — especially at a time of delicate negotiations for more funding with Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature.

“Janet Napolitano is a serious administrator who sees Katehi’s actions as character flaws that harm the university and they have to stop,” said William G. Tierney, an education professor and co-director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at USC. “She is very clear about how she sees the world. The appearance of impropriety is almost as big of a problem as an actual impropriety.”

“You don’t want to wake up and find out that one of your campus leaders is in the news for alleged wrongdoings,” Tierney added. “At a time when UC is really having major financial issues and the Legislature and governor are asking for reforms, this gets in the way.”

Source: LA Times


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