Friday, July 1, 2016
By Emanual M. Maverakis and Walter S. Leal, 06/30/2016, East Bay Times
University of California President Janet Napolitano is inept as an academic leader. She has now done irreparable damage to the university's reputation and the proud tradition of faculty/administration shared governance. The UC Regents must step in and address this situation.
Napolitano's management style is at odds with good stewardship of academic institutions, as is evident by her decision to summarily place UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi on administrative leave, despite heavy opposition from the faculty. Her now-infamous "investigation" of the chancellor reeks of scapegoating politics.
Napolitano's interjection is symbolic of the political interference that threatens the academic integrity of a great public university.
She is an outsider to the world of higher education, a career politician and a lawyer. She has no experience with the typical educational, research and publishing activities of academics. She has no experience in driving innovation.
To our knowledge, Napolitano was never involved in the UC system prior to her appointment. Her hard-hitting management strategy is not in line with the creative and collective goals of the UC system.
She seeks to convict Katehi through the court of public opinion, an approach common in politics but unacceptable in academia. While Napolitano has silenced Katehi with a "gag order," her office pumps out anti-Katehi statements to the media. Napolitano claims she is judging Katehi via factual "documents" but fails to release these to the UC Davis Academic Senate.
Undoubtedly, Napolitano's tactics seek to deflect attention from her own office's involvement. For example, Napolitano now says that Katehi showed poor judgment when she elected to serve on the board of DeVry University — but senior administrators are encouraged to serve on outside boards (Katehi is one of 49 who do) and Katehi specifically asked Napolitano's office for advice before DeVry publicly announced Katehi's appointment. (Keep in mind, Katehi resigned before ever serving on the DeVry board and never received a penny in compensation).
Ironically, for all of her reputation as a no-nonsense manager, Napolitano exhibits little understanding of the business side of the UC system. Her office has made much of the Katehi administration's expenditure of $172,000 to improve UC Davis' public image. This doesn't seem excessive for a $4 billion institution and, in fact, ranks in the lower half of all UC campuses. What does Napolitano's office spend for image boosting?
Simply put, Napolitano is engaging in scapegoating politics targeting UC Davis' first woman and high-achieving chancellor. Her heavy-handed interference symbolizes a much larger threat to the integrity, reputation and future of the University of California as a great public institution.
In contrast to Napolitano, faculty members of the Academic Senate have expressed confidence in Katehi, an award-winning engineer whose business expertise has led the university to record heights in company and government grants and contracts, while raising more than $1 billion in philanthropic donations.
Indeed, Katehi has helped lead the transformation of UC Davis, which now enrolls more Californians than any other UC campus.
Katehi has excelled in other projects as well. UC Davis now ranks 13th among all U.S. universities for undergraduate diversity. She has also put Davis on the map for bringing women into STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Forbes recognized these efforts by naming UC Davis the most important STEM University for women.
If Napolitano is successful in driving out Katehi, it will be unlikely that the university will find someone of equivalent caliber to replace her.
The UC Regents need to take decisive action now to question Napolitano and hold her accountable for her recent actions and corrosive management style.
Emanual M. Maverakis, M.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Dermatology at UC Davis and Walter S. Leal is distinguished professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at UC Davis. Other UC Davis professors signing this op-ed are Tilahun Yilma, distinguished professor of Virology; Kyaw Tha Paw U, professor in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources; Leopoldo M. Bernucci, professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese; Charles E. Hess, dean emeritus, College of Agricultural and Environmental Science and professor emeritus in the Department of Plant Science and Bruno Nachtergaele, professor, Department of Mathematics.