google-site-verification: googlea33552291e834fff.html Education: The Costs of the Katehi Affair

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Costs of the Katehi Affair

The simplest political question posed by the ongoing Katehi crisis is, "Can state government trust the University of California to clean its own house?"  The non-firing of Linda Katehi says, "No."  It's hard to imagine a better targeted confirmation of UC's reputation in Sacramento for poor management. If we didn't have the Katehi Affair, Jerry Brown would have had to invent it.

Yes she deserves due process, yes women chancellors deserve it as much as male chancellors do, and yes the campus view should be decisive rather than UCOP's.  But UC's bureaucracy should have prevented the chancellor's "mistakes" before they happened, or an internal investigation should have caught them before the Sacramento Bee did, or President Napolitano should have completed her investigation before she tried to fire Chancellor Katehi, or she should have succeeded in firing her on the basis of the preponderance of the evidence she already had.  None of these things happened.

Dense corporate controls entangle every regular UC employee on a daily basis. It takes dozens of person-hours in a half-dozen offices to set up a post-doc contract.  A researcher can wait 6 months--at least I once did--to get final approval on an outside vendor contract when there is a wrinkle, like a specialized foreign researcher who doesn't carry liability insurance.  The Katehi affair tells the public that senior managers live by different rules. It says the same thing to UC employees.  

This fragmenting of the university polity goes deep.  It's an effective short-term managerial technique, since it divides and demobilizes.  It does enormous long-term damage.  We can't measure that with existing metrics.

One type of damage appeared in CHE coverage of faculty views, where the faculty seemed not just divided but individually ambivalent and unclear.  The title of the piece could have been, "What's Going On?" The interviewees were not working from an explicit standard of management behavior that they felt they should enforce.  Contrast these views with the UC Davis students whom Amy Goodman interviewed and aired on Friday.  Seniors Parisa Esfahani and Kyla Burke (pictured above) produced precise, detailed explanations of the conduct they were protesting. They tied that to their big picture policy issue, "the normalization of the privatization of the university," which they said was subordinating education to money making.  They offered an integrated analysis of the range of Katehi "mistakes" as symptoms of a worldview that they did not accept.  The sense of belonging to the university, and the right / obligation to establish principles to which its leadership would be held to account, has come from the undergraduates.

I thought Linda Katehi should have resigned after the pepper-spray incident in 2011. I thought this not because it "happened on her watch," but because she was unable or unwilling to fix it afterwards. The officer in question, John Pike, earned global fame for the casual contempt with which he doused seated protesters with pepperspray, marking them as outside of the universitas, outside of society. Chancellor Katehi didn't rush to the students' defense, and/or condemn the act (even with the using "pending a full investigation"), and/or discipline wrongdoers in a direct and forthright way. Her eventual reaction became her trademark: slow, calculated, and unsatisfying.  This helped spread the damage through the system, as UCOP hired celebrity chief Bill Bratton's then-firm Kroll Security, with its own conflicts, to investigate UC overall.  She seemed not to take hold of the real issue--obvious police misconduct leading to the violation of the civil rights of the protesters, and of their human dignity. "These are our students, or our neighbors. And this is a university," she did not say.   She did not convene the university as a community with the permanent, historic obligation to understand itself.  My gut feeling was that she presided over "UC Davis" without connection to it.  I was struck by her walk through the silent crowd of students, at night, surrounded by bodyguards, unable or unwilling to speak, as though enfolded in a martyrdom of her own making.

I won't rehearse her current errors--they have received much attention, including Angus Johnston's definitive anatomy of the inane Internet scrubbling contract.  But I will note that her board service was not like that of the other chancellors.  She accepted positions at institutions that are directly opposed to UC interests. King Abdulaziz University games rankings with cash payments to prominent researchers for quasi-no-show jobs in exchange for sharing their citation credit, in order to leapfrog universities that have built reputations over decades. Wiley thrives by overcharging universities and their students for their own research results. DeVry prospers more when UC's public funding is less.  Such board payments are not invitations to internal critique--these institutions get abundant external critiques for free--but to use public servant stature to legitimate for-profits. Chancellor Katehi has shown serial poor judgment, and to me all the incidents flow from the same failure to understand how people think and feel when involved in public service.  She's not a bad person. She just doesn't get it. 

My diffuse but fundamental concern is the general aura or ethos that Linda Katehi has helped sustain. It's not so much the petty self-dealing, culminating in putting her reputation ahead of that of the entire university's, as it is the short selling of what a university is.  The university should stand for justice, enlightenment, and the continuous reconciliation of our private interests with the general welfare.  It should constantly trace great teaching and research back to open communication.  It should benefit student finances rather than hurting them. It should be a public good in the existential sense, where, for starters, regular citizens feel like the university is on their side.  It should model democracy, starting with managers possessed of generosity toward the role of student protesters in having prompted the investigations, and of enough epistemological humility to learn from critics.

This is the university I want. I'm convinced the wider public wants it too.  We have already learned what happens when we don't deliver it.

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