Monday, November 21, 2011

 

An Open Letter to Chancellor Katehi of the University of California, Davis

Dear Chancellor Katehi,

I imagine you’re feeling burned right now. You trusted the wrong people, and find yourself in a completely untenable position.

You know perfectly well that what the police did to peaceful protesters was beyond reason. There’s really no disputing that. The right to peaceable assembly is well-enshrined in American law, and for good reason. The videos speak for themselves.

Your people overshot. But you know that.

I’m not writing you to educate you about free speech or police brutality. I assume you’re smart enough to understand both, and to see clearly that the University was badly on the wrong side here.

I’m writing as a fellow higher ed administrator. Like you, I’ve been on the receiving end of smug tirades by people who don’t have to balance competing goods. It’s frustrating. And I’ve also had to deal with the fallout when people who report to me make decisions I wish they hadn’t. It happens.

Now you’re in that awful position where the protesters are right. It’s hard to swallow, but it’s true.

At this point, as I see it, you have exactly two ways to play this. You can resign, or you can jump out in front of the issue. The one thing you absolutely cannot do is be careful.

Resignation is obvious, and your hand may be forced, so I’ll leave it at that. The second option is admittedly risky, but with the egregiousness of the police conduct and the international attention being paid, the usual “let’s appoint a committee to look into it” won’t work.

The ground has shifted from under you. You cannot defend the police. You just can’t.

If you’re up to it, though, you can try to defend the purpose of the university. You can’t dodge this, but you may be able to lead your way out.

The way to do that would involve, first of all, admitting fault. You’ll have to eat a fair bit of crow, both privately and publicly. Then you have to admit that this has been a wake-up call.

The point of the university is the pursuit of truth through the open exchange of ideas. You need to admit -- even better, assert -- that the conduct of the police was directly antithetical to the purpose of the university. You need to prosecute the police involved, and replace the chief. You need to establish some sort of community board to monitor the police. The campus police will hate you for that, but it has to be done.

Then you need to take active steps to make UC-Davis a civil community in the fullest sense of ‘civil.’ That doesn’t mean ‘polite’ or ‘quiescent.’ It means a setting in which vigorous debate is actually possible -- and sometimes even encouraged -- with the shared understanding that we separate the speaker from the speech. I’d start by personally engaging the Occupy protesters on campus, and then by inviting speakers from all over to debate each other in public, both formally and informally. You need to attend those debates personally.

This can’t be delegated. You can’t ask your associate dean of whatever to handle it. As the chancellor, you have to get out there yourself. And you have to steel yourself emotionally for the vituperation that will come your way. You can’t take the bait.

Like it or not, the only way around this is through it. You have to own this, personally and publicly. You have to get out there yourself, take the risk of public humiliation, and change the way the university treats the people who get on its nerves.

If that’s too tall an order, just resign. But make up your mind quickly. Twisting in the wind will do untold damage to everything the university stands for.

Good luck. I’m glad I’m not you right now.

Sincerely,

Dean Dad

Comments:
Yes, this clearly crossed an important line and people are going to (correctly) suspect that a committee will end up as a whitewash. I agree that getting out in front may work, but the time for this is fairly short as it can look like desperation if tried after too much time.
 
Not to call the wrath of the heavens upon a favorite blogger, but I almost wish it was you up there at UC Davis. I believe you are one of the good ones. I believe you would be appropriately devistated if that was your campus and those were your students, and I like to believe your first instinct would not be smile-nod-committee.

But the irony! You've called on Chancellor Katehi to be brave and strong and open and take her lumps...under your pseudonym of "Dean Dad."

I know why you blog anonomously. Hell, I comment anonymously, and I've got a lot less to lose than you do! I can only imagine your more difficult faculty members seeing themselves in your posts and seething, and the union president calling for your head. You'd be victim of a committee or three yourself.

I know you make difficult decisions every single day, but the public face of academic administration is cowardice and fear. And the cowardly and fearful do quite well for themselves in the ranks. The culture is toxic. Can we really blame Katehi for being exactly what all her training has successfully taught her to be?
 
The chancellor has already fumbled it by choosing to appoint a committee and giving it a 90-day deadline. She soon had to walk that back and change it to 30 days. Katehi said it would be a broad-based task force with faculty and student representation -- the actual people named to it will be crucial in giving it credibility. But she will make yet another mistake if she treats the creation of the committee as sufficient to address the problem and then ducks back into her office.
 
There is a video up (I found it at Edge of the American West) of Katehi walking out of the Administration building on Saturday night. She looks like she is leaving a funeral. So I suspect she knows that she is going. I think, alas, she has missed her chance to defend the purpose of the University.

And there goes the Div I football team she wanted to start.
 
You're assuming that she's upset about the action and not the blowback. Her actions before and since imply that she's kind of a Class Warrior.
 
1. Admit fault.
2. Fire the police chief.
3. Resign.
 
DeanDad, to me something smells like you've been in a political position for a bit too long. Guard your soul well.
 
Just a factual question for any expert here:

If Chancellor Katehi admits fault publicly, as DD recommends, doesn't that open the civil lawsuit floodgates?

In other words, I wonder if part of her carefulness is trying not to ensure the civil suits will win by admitting fault.
 
I turned to the comments with trepidation, having seen hateful comments elsewhere, given by people who, had there been an Internet in the early 1960s, no doubt would have applauded and celebrated Bull Connor's fire hoses, attack dogs, and club-wielding deputies.

What a relief not to see any of that here.
 
I watched Chancellor Katehi's apology just now, and I must be missing something because that didn't look entirely like the public face of cowardice. The events that triggered this are horrifying, but the soaring levels of virtue in the global virtual crowd are starting to feel a little uncomfortable. What is our stake in how this turns out? Given that we can't fix what already happened, what kind of outcome would satisfy us? Why?

Unless I missed an announcement, addressing this question is all still as much our responsibility as hers.
 
DD, you are awesome.

And I was very disappointed to see the chancellor do exactly what DD said she shouldn't do: form a task force. The bureaucratic defensive reflex. Now we all know how it will play out: some policy cud-chewing, a resignation or two, and no lessons learned.
 
UCDavis has published policies for protesters (Campus Policy), and I can't imagine anyone disputes that the police use of pepper spray was unnecessary to effect the arrest of students who failed to disperse at the direction of officials. But the kids should have moved when instructed or expect the consequences.

But I don't buy your assertion that the protesters are right. Right about what? And while I understand the principle of the buck stopping at the top, I'm not finding this a demonstration that the chancellor is incompetent. If this is just a case of the ivory tower self-immolating per its own internal morality and politics, so be it. But as a taxpayer, I'd prefer a least-cost resolution, since I'm the one who must pay for it. Chancellor searches are expensive, and I've heard no other claims of resignatino-worthy behavior. Clearly, the police have some remedial work to do, but this wasn't Kent State or anything like it.

And the kids will be dining out on this for the rest of their lives.
 
One thing that I don't think has come up in discussions of this event is the fact, clearly documented in video, that the police officer in question had no difficulty stepping over a protester from behind to get in position to use pepper spray on the entire group. That makes claims that the sidewalk was blocked or that police were cut off from support from fellow police rather, er, questionable.

Thanks for that campus policy link, PNWReader. It clearly makes no mention of inflicting life-threatening injury, merely arrest, for non-violent protest.

Why not just have someone in a wheelchair try to roll down that sidewalk and arrest anyone who blocks their way. Sheesh. This isn't rocket science.

My observation about leadership is, based on the news clip I saw on cable news, that the Chancellor is an extremely poor communicator. Was "being really bad in the classroom" a stated qualification for promotion in the UC system?
 
Anyone who's read about Katehi's role in destroying the protections for political speech of university students in her native Greece knows Katehi.

She's one of those people with a void where her soul should be, an eternal bagman for the sociopathic wealthy. She's not even interesting, honestly; she's a tool. Who bought her?
 
Starbucks Gift Card

 
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