Why Linda Katehi at UC Davis Should NOT Resign
An Open Letter by Gregory C. Pappas on Facebook:
As the media is quick to demonize the chancellor of the University of California Davis, Dr. Linda Katehi– it’s important the entire story is told. I feel compelled to write, in defense of Linda Katehi’s actions, because I know her personally and have spoken to her on numerous occasions about her genuine concern for education.
Katehi is the first female chancellor of the University of California Davis, one of the nation’s largest universities and a top research institution and one of only 16 female chancellors or presidents in the Association of American Universities.
She grew up on a small island in Greece with dreams of becoming an electrical engineer. There was no library in her hometown and no other woman from there had ever gone to college before her. She went on to study at the famed Polytechnio of Athens and was one of only 2 women in a class of 190 students when she graduated. At UCLA she had no women mentors– it was a field dominated by men. At every obstacle, Katehi didn’t give up on her pursuit of education.
This background is important to understand the very core of Linda Katehi and her commitment and dedication to education– and making education accessible to those who traditionally do not have access to it.
At first glance (and when taken out of context, as the media is so good at doing), the UC Davis pepper sray story a classic case of abuse of power. The big bad administration against the poor minions– in this case, the students.
But when the story’s facts are peeled away, unfolding one untold (by the media) detail after another– the real story begins to unfold.
Fact: many of the few dozen occupiers on the UC Davis campus were not students of the school– a trespassing violation of school policy.
Fact: the tents and encampment was in violation of school policy– safety and health were amongst the main concerns and several violations had been reported to school administration.
Fact: Katehi and her administration attempted on several occasions to reason with the group, seeking to provide support to the students, listen to their concerns and provide them with several opportunities– legal opportunities– to express their opinions and make their voices heard.
Fact: Katehi and her administration informed the group that tents and overnight encampments were illegal, according to university policy. They were informed verbally, as well as in writing, throughout the course of their demonstrations and after over 25 tents had been set up on the lawn, known as the Quad.
Fact: The few dozen demonstrating students had no specific demands against the school administration, according to Katehi. They were protesting against the economic crisis in the state, the lack of jobs in California and increased tuition in the University of California network.
Although there were a few dozen students protesting on the campus, there were tens of thousands attending classes over the past two weeks. Linda Katehi understood her mandate well: to protect the students and provide a safe environment for them– for the 99% of them who were doing on that campus what they were there to do: learn.
Unfortunately, the few dozen troublemakers are the ones garnering all of the national attention.
Yes, the university police were 100% wrong to use chemical agents against these trespassers even though they were in violation of school policy and the law. It is the police chief who is responsible for these actions. The individual who gave the order to use the pepper spray should be fired– not Linda Katehi.
Linda Katehi’s job was to provide a safe environment on campus for the 32,000+ students who were enrolled there and to follow the policies set forth by the university administration, which included no trespassing and no overnight encampments on university grounds. Linda Katehi was doing her job– following university policy and providing a safe environment on campus.
But one must ask oneself several questions:
1) Doesn’t that park on the university campus belong to all of the students? Why should a few dozen protestors– students and non-students alike, be allowed to take over a park that is designed for all members of the university community?
2) Why didn’t these few dozen protestors use their rights that are afforded to them both as students of the University of California Davis, as well as Americans, and hold rallies, write letters to the editor, request and conduct meetings with student government associations and the administration? Why did these protestors feel they had the right to disrupt the campus life for 31,950 of the school’s 32,000 campus student community?
3) Was Linda Katehi supposed to give in to the tyranny of the few dozen– including several not part of her university’s community– and further disrupt and harm the environment for the rest of the campus community?
4) I don’t support the use of chemical agents against protestors in any situation, but when do protestors and protests become unreasonable– especially when they break the law?
5) When do the rights of the protestors supersede the laws of the majority that their actions impact? Why are a few dozen law-breakers’ rights more important than those of tens of thousands of others sharing that campus?
Linda Katehi is an honorable woman whose first and foremost priority on the campus of the University of California Davis has always been to provide the best quality of education for the school’s students. UC Davis is an educational institution with an emphasis on research with a track record second to none– and by all accounts, her work since taking the post of chancellor has been exemplary.
A report in January of 2010 cited a 25% increase in student applications. That’s right– despite some of the most difficult of economic times in California, the school experienced a record high of over 54,000 applications. What’s even more telling of Katehi’s leadership is that those from traditionally underrepresented groups — African American, American Indian and Chicano/Latino — increased applications by almost ten percent.
Linda Katehi’s own experiences decades ago and her desire to make education accessible to women and other under-represented groups has translated to a steadfast commitment that education should be accessible to all who want it.
I am proud to know Linda Katehi personally and professionally and stand by her 100% as an educational innovator and a compassionate individual who genuinely cares about her job and the lives of people she impacts.
No– Linda Katehi should NOT resign.