Monday, November 21, 2011

Should Katehi Resign?

Too lazy to figure out how to change profile name from this very old account. I'm Kerry Enright, Assistant Professor, School of Education, UC Davis. Many thanks to the comment asking for my name-- didn't realize it was absent!

I attended today's rally on the Quad, and was incredibly impressed by the students at our university. They are poised, committed, smart, thoughtful, and disciplined. Their responses to police violence at UC Berkeley were peaceful and powerful when they demonstrated on our campus last week. Their responses to the police actions here at UC Davis on Friday have been equally disciplined, thoughtful, and powerful.

I attended the rally to support these students. I wanted the victims of the police attacks to know that my colleagues and I, their professors, were with them in solidarity, horrified by the use of violence against them. Moreover, I wanted these young people to be HEARD... not as victims, but as demonstrators who were gathered on the Quad with their tents on Friday because they have something important to say, and no official venue to say it. Today, I wanted them to KNOW that they were heard.

Unfortunately, their reason for camping on the Quad is being lost amidst calls for Chancellor Katehi's resignation, and this saddens me. And the thoughtfulness that has pervaded so many of these student rallies is being lost amidst efforts to vilify Linda Katehi. These young people were upset before they were pepper-sprayed. They were upset about rising tuition and recent moves to privatize the University of California. They were upset that this university, whose purpose was to educate California’s youth, is being privatized in ways that will deny access to many of California’s talented hard-working young people. The shift in focus to Linda Katehi makes for more dramatic media soundbites, but it doesn’t move the students’ agenda forward, or get their larger complaints addressed.

When Linda Katehi first joined UC Davis as Chancellor, I was not happy about her presence here, because I sensed that she represented this move towards privatization. After she met with faculty in the School of Education, I was even less enthusiastic about her presence here. Her focus, like that of most UC leaders these days, was on “income generation.” The dominant narrative is that the state legislature, and the public, have cut education funding so severely that we cannot continue to provide a quality education unless we find alternative funds. When I asked the Chancellor how we, whose research and teaching focuses on the poor, the immigrant, the disenfranchised, could be expected to continue this mission FOR PROFIT, she had a pat answer that did not sit well with me or many of my colleagues. I would rather see us examine the premise behind these “privatization” efforts-- the premise that the university and its mission of access for Californians is no longer the responsibility of the state and the public. I would rather see us challenge this premise more publicly, and consider how we got here in the first place. This is what the students have been DOING while I have just been whining about it over cocktails with friends and colleagues.

If Chancellor Katehi resigns, then many students and faculty members will have a brief moment of feeling empowered. We acted, and made this happen. We removed a leader whose poor judgment resulted in harm to students. Someone will have been held responsible. My sense, though, is that there is potential for real change with Chancellor Katehi. I know that her hands and tongue must be tied right now, bound by university attorneys who don’t want her to choose words that might indicate culpability that costs the university millions of dollars in lawsuits. But she showed up today-- knowing that she would be heckled, knowing that she would likely be publicly shamed, she showed up, and took the stage even after public calls, moments before, for her resignation. She apologized, took responsibility to whatever extent the attorneys will let her, and acknowledged that she needed to earn students’ trust again. If Chancellor Katehi resigns, UC Davis will have a time of transition, with unknown leadership. Momentum will be lost. We will fade from the media’s attention, and I fear much of the ground that students gained this weekend will be lost. If Chancellor Katehi stays, she can demonstrate that she has learned-- from her mistakes, from our students, from the memories of the tragedies in Greece in 1973. She can get to know her students, respond to their concerns, and engage the full campus community in ways that just might generate new creative responses to the UC crisis. Sending the police to our students the same week as the UC Berkeley incident was irresponsible. I suspect she realizes that now. Hers was not the animal-like aggression demonstrated by the two officers who sprayed students. Hers was the ignorant behavior of extreme privilege. If she resigns, she will be replaced by someone of equal privilege, someone who has not been humbled by such a grave mistake. Privilege blinds us to our power, but it does not necessarily make us evil. Chancellor Katehi’s blinders are off now. I suspect she has an entirely new understanding of our students, our campus, and police intervention today. In fact, I’m sure of it, since there were no police officers in uniform at today’s rally.

I have had several humbling life-changing experiences in my lifetime. Each experience changed my world view, my purpose, my ways of interacting with others, my approaches to wielding power and dealing with my own privilege. I know I still have blinders sometimes, and I will continue to be humbled, to learn, and to grow. I would like to have someone smart, committed, and humble as our Chancellor. Linda Katehi might be our best chance at that. Why not give her that chance?


  1. I just finished a social media exchange with an old friend whose leanings are more in line with Chancellor Katehi. The friend questioned the connection I made between last week's events and the merits of broad access to higher education. We went back and forth about marketable skills and the usefulness of liberal arts instruction. It was a conversation I would not have had before last week's events.

    I think you're right to say that the demonstration may have lost its original focus. I found myself having a similar reaction during the rally today. However, dialogues have been initiated - ones that hadn't been taking place.

    If thoughtful people are capable of recognizing where this started - as you are prompting here - then the movement is achieving its aims (even if it is in spite of itself).

  2. Prof,
    Your words are thoughtful indeed however I beg to disagree. For 2 full days, Linda Katehi did not seem to understand the situation and the circumstances leading to the pepper spray outrage and insisted that she was right. Only after extreme condemnation and the fear of loss of her cushy job and that of her husband's, did she backtrack. Her removal would set an example for somebody coming in next that the status quo would not be tolerated..

  3. Isn't it really up to the Chancellor to decide if the protesters should be removed or not?
    The cops were doing what the Chancellor asked them to do, to remove the students, and if that involved pepper spray and batons, that's the Chancellor's fault.

  4. It's unfortunate that a name is not attached to this post.

    Thank you for writing what many of us felt yesterday at the rally. I support the students 100%; I also support Chancellor Katehi and very much hope she stays on as our leader during what will continue to be very tough economic times ahead: yes, it's possible to support both. Chancellor Katehi is a strong leader who, up until last Friday, had a reputation for strength and innovative leadership. While her reputation is (and should be) tarnished, her vision for UC Davis' future--particularly her '2020 Initiative'--is inspiring and bold.

    This movement should be about the future of UC Davis. The story of UC Davis is bigger than a single person.

  5. Interesting perspective, but I think Katehi is so damaged (credibility, leadership, etc.) by her failure to act immediately and decisively that it makes no sense for her to continue. What's shocking is that the response she needed to make was and still is so obvious: Damage Control 101 -- apoligize, admit the mistake/responsibility, seek/enforce accountability @ all levels, and take steps to prevent a recurrence. Katehi has lagged on each of these steps by 1-2 days at a minimum, which shows she's just not cut-out for the job because she lacks the proper instincts and judgment required to lead UC Davis. I am a UCD alum (1987) and was completely disgusted by what I saw on the video of last Friday's incident, and I've continued to be disgusted by the response of the university and police officials--everything they do is too late and half-measures. Pike needs to lose his job and be criminally prosecuted, Spicuzza needs to be fired (or demoted if one wishes to be kind), and Katehi needs to resign/be fired--she is simply too damaged to continue. What parent wants to send their kid (and what kid wants to attend) to a school that has such a chancellor? Nope, I think she needs to go, and the sooner the better for all concerned, including the great institution that was, is, and will be UC Davis.

  6. I think top leadership positions (with top compensation) can and should come with more responsibility. I actually do think that justice will be done if she needs to lose her job over this. And justice may be what the students who were attacked need, and I understand if they want her to resign. But I don't think they risked bodily harm to remove the Chancellor. I think they risked it to see larger systemic changes. And I think we're more likely to see those changes with someone who has been humbled and has millions of eyes watching for an engaged authentic response. Her presence at the rally and the absence of uniforms suggest to me that there's a chance for this. If we need to choose between her PAYING for her mistake versus having her MAKE AMENDS for her mistake, I'd rather see her do the difficult long-term work of making amends. I don't oppose people who respectfully call for her resignation, because I understand that position completely. I just think she knows she owes a great debt to UCD students right now. Her replacement won't share that sentiment.

  7. Kerry,
    Your words speak to everything I have been thinking the past few days, from the reasons you attended the rally to the reasons I do not want Chancellor Katehi to resign. Many of my peers in the School of Education at UC Davis have expressed deep gratitude for the way our faculty members have responded. From your presence on the Quad to the letter to our Chancellor and Provost, to discussions in class and Cynthia's blog post...I want to thank you and the SOE faculty/staff.

    EdGSA will be asking that our community work together to address the issues that you and our fellow students have raised about the privatization of our CA universities. We must bring to bear the skills and perspectives of our faculty and students. I would be honored if you would join us in upcoming conversations.

    Thank you, again, for sharing your perspective. It has meant so much to know our faculty connect deeply with the issues we face moving forward.

    Best wishes,
    Mary Briggs

  8. Thanks, Kerry, for acknowledging the many shades of gray surrounding the calls for the Chancellor's resignation.

  9. Thank you, Kerry, for putting forward this perspective. I have been supportive of the Chancellor from the first; I think her focus on revenue generation is sad, but realistic in these times. Even if we can successfully prevent further privatization - and I am not at all sure that we can, although more hopeful lately - isn't it good that she's got our back?

    If the worst people can say here is that she is 1-2 days late in her responses, I see no serious grounds to call for her resignation.

    Nina Amenta, Professor, Computer Science, UCD

  10. Thanks for the post. It has been over 15 years since I was a UC Davis undergrad, but the actions of the students make be proud to have been associated with the university. They should be commended for speaking their minds in an effort to raise awareness and hopefully change the direction of society. The University has a important role as an incubator of ideas and ideals that improve our nation and world, rather than simply generate revenue for individuals, corporations or the UC Regents. It is my hope that the Chancellor understands and welcomes this role of the University as a sanctuary for idealism. While the recent events in Davis do not necessarily compare to the horrible events Chancellor witnessed in Greece as a youth, both sent of events share one thing in common--young idealistic people put themselves at risk in an effort to change what was felt to be unjust. Hopefully the Chancellor saw value in their efforts and raw idealism--if she didn't, then perhaps she would be better off working in industry, where she wouldn't necessarily have to give lip service to student concerns and could just focus on engineering and revenue. She shouldn't have to be humbled into doing the right things--she should want to do them.