Sunday, December 18, 2011

Op-ed: Reviewing the case for Katehi’s resignation

By Nathan Brown
Original post here.

Immediately following the events of Nov. 18 at UC Davis, which have come to be known as “the pepper-spray incident,” I wrote an open letter to Chancellor Linda Katehi demanding her resignation. Since then, calls for the chancellor’s resignation have continued to grow. These have been issued by:

* A petition signed by more than 110,000 people;

* The board of the Davis Faculty Association;

* The majority of the faculty in the physics department;

* The English department;

* The department of comparative literature;

* The Program in Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies;

* A group of faculty in the history department;

* The chairman of the UCD Graduate Student Association;

* The general assembly of the UCD student movement;

* A no-confidence letter signed by dozens of faculty from many different departments; and

* An international letter of solidarity declaring an academic boycott of UCD until the chancellor’s resignation.

It is no small thing for the majority of the faculty in two of the largest and most important departments in the sciences and humanities, physics and English, to call for the resignation of a university chancellor. It is even more significant when this call is joined by other departments and by more than 100,000 people, including thousands of UCD students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as residents of the city of Davis.

Despite the chancellor’s efforts to sow ambiguity concerning her orders to police, these calls for her resignation are ultimately grounded in an irrefutable fact: One week after the chancellor of UC Berkeley ordered riot police to remove an encampment on that campus, and one week after student and faculty demonstrators were brutally beaten by those police, Chancellor Katehi made the same decision in the same circumstances at UC Davis. She also ordered riot police to remove an encampment, and the same result, followed: police violence against students.

The decision to send riot police onto our campus under these circumstances was not a mistake or an oversight, but the repetition of a dangerous failure of leadership by another UC chancellor just nine days earlier. Considering the severe consequences of that failure for our students and for the reputation of our university, demands for the chancellor’s resignation are far from hasty or ill-considered. Rather, they acknowledge that while the chancellor already had ample opportunity to learn the lesson of what happened at Berkeley, she either failed or refused to do so.

Chancellor Katehi has said she accepts “full responsibility” for the events of Nov. 18. Those of us calling for her resignation agree that she is fully responsible, and we demand that she accept the consequences of that responsibility by stepping down.

Since Nov. 18, the inconsistency of the chancellor’s response to calls for her resignation has not alleviated but rather exacerbated her failure of leadership. On the one hand, she has accepted full responsibility; on the other, she has attempted to displace blame onto the vice chancellor and the police. As faculty and students have pointed out, the investigations organized by UC Davis and the UC Office of the President are riddled with conflicts of interest that belie their supposed independence and objectivity.

The cover provided by these investigations now allows the chancellor to respond to direct questions concerning her decisions on Nov. 18 by saying she is no longer at liberty to speak about the matter. While the chancellor emphasizes the need for “dialogue,” student and faculty forums organized by the administration have determined who can speak through a lottery system that seriously undermines any genuinely open conversation about her capacity to lead the university.

Meanwhile, articles have brought to light Chancellor Katehi’s co-authorship of a report recommending the return of militarized police to Athens Polytechnic University as a deterrent to the “politicization” of the campus, as well as her involvement with a program of information sharing between American university campuses and the FBI. These reports are troubling evidence of an ongoing effort to quell and suppress political dissent on university campuses through the use of policing and surveillance.

Amid these developments, the UC Davis administration has now announced the composition of a new Chancellor’s Advisory Board, which, we are told, will help to guide our university into the future. This board includes the CEOs of Bechtel and of Chevron, as well as the senior vice president of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. It also includes the principal of McGill University, who, twice in November 2011, ordered riot police onto that campus — police who also used pepper-spray against peaceful protesters. And it includes M.R.C. Greenwood, former UC provost, who left her post at the UC amid a scandal over improper hiring practices and conflicts of interest.

In other words, in the midst of international condemnation concerning the suppression of free speech and political dissent through police violence on our campus, Chancellor Katehi has chosen to surround herself with university administrators who have also used riot police to quell student protest and who have resigned amid scandals concerning the inappropriate use of administrative power. She has chosen to surround herself with the CEOs of corporations tied to war profiteering and environmental catastrophes.

While the chancellor now pretends to support the efforts of students and faculty to defend the public mission of the UC system, the composition of her new Advisory Board exemplifies a different vision: a future in which the shared governance of the university is replaced by ties to corporate interests that hasten, rather than struggle against, the privatization of the UC system.

What these developments since Nov. 18 confirm is what many students and faculty already realized then: that the chancellor’s decision to deploy riot police against students demonstrating in defense of public education was no “mistake” and had nothing to do with the “health and safety” of the campus community. Rather, it was the political content of the students’ protest that had to be suppressed due to the chancellor’s own political commitment and her own vision for the future of UC Davis: a commitment to the privatization of a great public university and a vision in which the interests of corporations and administrators take precedence over those of students.

Those of us calling for the chancellor’s resignation do not share that vision. There are many of us, and that is encouraging. For the good of the university, we continue to insist that the chancellor needs to step down.

— Nathan Brown is a professor of English at UC Davis.


  1. At some point the situation will become sufficiently surreal that we will witness an epidemic of spontaneous combustion.

    'senior vice president of Bank of America Merrill Lynch'
    A.k.a. ground zero for the housing bubble and the source of much current loan servicing abuse. What a sad sad joke.

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