UC Davis chancellor should heed students’ demands

UNIVERSITY ISSUES: In light of recent controversy surrounding her appointment to various for-profit boards and a costly PR campaign, Linda Katehi should resign.

In 2003, Barbra Streisand sued a photographer for $10 million over a picture of her house that had been uploaded to his website. Before the suit, the offending picture had been downloaded only a few times. After the suit, more than 400,000 people downloaded the picture of Streisand’s home.

This phenomenon of bringing more attention to something by trying to hide it, which has since been named “the Streisand Effect,” is playing out for the world to see on UC Davis’ campus.

Last week, the Sacramento Bee reported that UC Davis spent nearly $200,000 trying to erase the trace of a 2011 incident in which a university police officer pepper sprayed protesting students and otherwise improve the online image of the school and its chancellor, Linda Katehi.

At a time when budgets are stretched thin, PR campaigns should not be on campus priority lists, and calls for Katehi’s resignation, which have persisted for many years, are more prudent than ever. Last month, students occupied her office for weeks, even through final exams and spring break. Just last week, the UC Student Association, which represents more than 200,000 UC students, also called for her resignation.

These resignation calls flare up with each of Katehi’s mistakes. In March, she released an official apology, acknowledging that she should not have taken board of director positions at two for-profit corporations, Wiley and Sons textbooks and DeVry Education Group. Employment with for-profit organizations such as DeVry Education Group must first be approved by UC President Janet Napolitano. But Katehi failed to get that approval, breaking UC policy, which she noted in her apology. Students and a state legislator — Assemblymember Jim Cooper — insisted that her receiving payment from a company that profits off of students who are required to purchase its books constituted an obvious conflict of interests. These students deserve to be heard.

It’s true that unlike many in the university’s upper management, Katehi does publicly own up to her mistakes. After the pepper spray incident, she stood before students and told them that she would have to earn back their trust. Her March apology, emailed to the entire student body, marks another example of such a moment. But the trust broken by the fact that she got herself into this situation is not at all repaired by mere apologies. Having now learned that she spent precious funds on a PR campaign to improve her image and that of UC Davis, students have been given a clear message: Linda Katehi cares more about public image than the trust of her students.

Expunging the UC Davis pepper spray incident does a grave disservice to those who endured harm while practicing free speech and fighting for what they believed in. Their actions should not be forgotten.

Ultimately, students at UC Davis know better than the UC regents, the media and most others whether Katehi is fit to be their chancellor. And the broad, ongoing protests conclusively show that Katehi, despite her promises to earn their trust, has only lost more credibility. If her desire to take responsibility for her mistakes is genuine, Katehi ought to seriously consider and heed the demands of the students she purports to serve. It’s past time to end this ongoing problem on the Davis campus.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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