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Is Linda Katehi the right person to be running UC Davis?

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In the aftermath of the UC Davis pepper spray incident, when campus cop Lt. John Pike unleashed the nasty dispersing agent on a group of Occupy protesters who had refused to leave the university's quad, Chancellor Linda Katehi has been standing her ground, cooperating with an investigation rather than resigning.

This sounds like a prudent course of action and has attained some credibility, especially now that former LA Police Chief and New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton — not a man to be trifled with — has been appointed by UC to lead to lead the inquiry.

But of course, the outcome is already baked in the cake. Chancellor Katehi, who reportedly ordered the campus cops to remove the protesters and their tents from the quad, is now fighting for her career. She's just thrown the offending officers under the bus, declaring that they defied her order to avoid a repeat of an earlier action against Occupy at UC Berkeley, which turned ugly.

But she's saying this in the context of a use-of-force doctrine for UC campus police that didn't provide any special exceptions for protesters whom most observers would conclude were engaged in a classic example of passive resistance.

Which raises an obvious question: Who exactly is Linda Katehi and is she qualified to run a UC university?

On paper, yes. She's a Greek-born electrical engineer with an impressive resume, including graduates degrees from UCLA. But she's also been involved, if maybe only peripherally, with an equally impressive academic scandal. And she's not necessarily a friend to students exercising their political rights.

Before coming to Davis, Katehi was provost at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She reportedly oversaw admissions during a period when...the university was engaged in unethical admissions practices. It was dubbed the "clout" scandal by the Chicago Tribune, which ran an investigative report on university's practice of extending favored admissions treatment to well-connected students who weren't otherwise qualified to attend the school.

Ultimately, the the scandal cost the university's president his job.

Meanwhile, UC affirmed its confidence in Katehi. But it had appointed her as UC Davis Chancellor just a few weeks before the Trib published the first in its series of Clout Sandal articles, in 2009.

This is from a UC Davis release at the time:

On June 12, Katehi sent an e-mail to UC Davis’ Fred Wood, vice chancellor of Student Affairs, saying: “In my position as provost at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, I do have responsibility for student admissions. However, I want to be clear to you and others at UC Davis that I was not involved in the admissions decisions that were the subject of the Tribune’s ‘Clout Goes to College’ investigation.

“Because of the governmental relations aspect and the involvement of University of Illinois System trustees, the so-called ‘Category I’ admissions process was not part of the regular admissions system and was handled at a higher level in the institution.”

"Category I" is an internal name that the University gave to a "shadow" admissions process, according to published reports. If that sounds bad, it's because it is. 

And while Katehi says she didn't have anything to do with, it's not clear that she didn't know about it. In fact, she seemed to know exactly what it was.

Slippery, right? Sort of like not resigning after saying that campus cops who were carrying out your orders somehow...ignored your orders.

Which brings us to the question of how Katehi actually feels about politically active students in the first place.

Katehi is Greek and Greece is currently going through a major economic and political crisis. The country has gone so far as to abolish "asylum" on college campuses. Why?

Because a commission recommended that they do it, in reaction to student protests against the austerity measures that Greece has been subjected to.

And who was a member of that commission?

Linda Katehi.

This is from the commission's report, which I got (in translation) in roundabout fashion from Naked Capitalism:

Geek university campuses are not secure. While the Constitution allows University leaders to protect campuses against elements that seek political instability, Rectors have been reluctant to exercise their rights and responsibilities, and to make decisions needed in order to keep faculty, staff and students safe. As a result, University leaders and faculty have not been able to be good stewards of the facilities they have been entrusted with by the public.

The politicization of the campuses – and specifically the politicization of students – represents a beyond-reasonable involvement in the political process. This is contributing to an accelerated degradation of higher education.

Let's review. The University of California appointed as Chancellor of Davis an administrator who was at least peripherally involved with a major admissions scandal, perhaps because that scandal broke just as the UC had wrapped up what was likely an expensive and time-consuming search process (for the record, Katehi makes $400,000 per year as chancellor at Davis, an $85,000 raise over her predecessor).

And then, while Chancellor of Davis, Katehi participated in a commission on the problems of the Greek university system that explicitly concluded that Greek campuses were not "secure," that administrators had been slack when it came to reigning in "political instability," and that students basically had no business getting involved in the political situation in Greece, at a time when the country was going through its worst crisis since the end of the Greek junta in the 1970s.

By the way, when that junta was failing, there was a huge protest at Athens Polytechnic, which the Greek army put down by driving a tank through the university's gates. 

And guess who was a student at Athens Polytechnic back then? None other than...Linda Katehi!

There's plenty of circumstantial stuff here, which has set off much chatter in the blogosphere. But it does appear that Katehi's background, which is controversial, did not equip her to deal with a campus protest at Davis. In fact, there's more than circumstantial evidence that points to her discomfort with the idea of students engaged in political activities, period. Particularly political activities inspired by a organizations outside the university, such as Occupy Wall Street. 

It's worth noting that while she didn't wield the pepper spray herself, Katehi did issue the critical order to clear the protesters. And that set in motion the whole ugly UC Davis incident. 

She may not have been the right person for this particularly difficult job, regardless of whether UC made a good decision in putting her in charge of Davis in the first place.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter.

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