Friday, May 6, 2016

Less Ruth and No Crap

As UC’s scandals spread, Janet Napolitano plays tough cop

By Nanette Asimov, May 5, 2016, San Francisco Chronicle 

Handling any crisis — whether it’s sexual harassment at UC Berkeley or reports of ethics violations by the UC Davis chancellor — comes down to two words, experts say.

Fix it.

“Good spin is great. But it doesn’t solve the problem,” said Larry Kamer, a Bay Area strategist who specializes in crisis management at companies and colleges.

He doesn’t advise Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California. But he said he’d give her high marks not only for suspending UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi last week and hiring a former top federal prosecutor in the Bay Area, Melinda Haag, to investigate, but also for forcing UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to toughen his approach to employees who sexually harass students and colleagues.

Sorry. No Ruth
“When you have to repair a gigantic, self-proclaimed ‘best public university in the world,’ you have to be ruthless,” Kamer said. “You can be so ruthless that everyone hates your guts and you lose support. You’re not always going to get everything right. But you have to make decisions.”

As if she’d been listening from UC’s Oakland headquarters, Napolitano told The Chronicle on Thursday, “If you sit and try to figure out which of your decisions will get a universal vote of popularity, you’ll never make decisions. My role is to make decisions.”

A different approach

Some applaud those decisions. Others, particularly at UC Davis, accuse her of skirting the channels of “shared decision-making” that give professors a voice in running the university.

But popular or not, Napolitano’s decisions have surprised professors and students who aren’t used to such interference in campus matters from the UC president’s office.

“Our current president is not taking any more crap,” said Sadia Saifuddin, who was student regent last year and opposed Napolitano’s hiring in 2013. Saifuddin had echoed the view of students who protested the appointment of Napolitano, the former federal Homeland Security secretary and ex-Arizona governor, because she was a nonacademic outsider who had presided over deportations.
No more crap
But now, Saifuddin and others say Napolitano’s outsider, tough-cop background is an asset that is helping her cut through academia’s historic tolerance of sexual harassment by professors and other high-profile employees.

Series of changes

Napolitano formed a new committee, based in her office, to oversee campuses’ disciplinary decisions in harassment cases. She strengthened UC’s antiharassment training, and she ordered a systemwide task force back to work when it let stand a rule letting tenured professors escape strong discipline if they are accused of harassment more than three years after the incident.

She also stepped in when Sujit Choudhry was allowed to resign as UC Berkeley Law School dean after his sexual harassment violations became public through a lawsuit in March. She required Choudhry — who holds tenure and cannot be easily fired — to be temporarily barred from campus and sent his case to a tenure review committee, a rare occurrence that Choudhry is fighting.

...Some who study public policy, however, see Napolitano’s approach as too punitive and say she should do more to elicit better behavior in the first place.

Her decisions “are a day late and a dollar short,” said Michael O’Hare, who teaches public management at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. “She should have been on top of this before it came out as public scandals. Her response has been largely to tighten up on bad behavior and punish it more severely. And I think that’s missing a very large part of the task — which is to have less offending and less punishing.”...

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