During finals week, most UC students occupy libraries, but at UC Davis, students occupied the chancellor’s office. Beginning on March 11, office hallways turned into study halls with pillows and blankets littering the waiting room as protesters occupied the 5th floor of Mrak Hall.
They demanded Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi’s resignation or firing amid concerns about her seats on the boards of DeVry Education Group, King Abdulaziz University and Wiley & Sons textbook publishing company, from which she recently resigned.
“At a time when our students are facing ever increasing fees, class sizes and exorbitantly priced textbooks, the chancellor’s actions demonstrate poor judgment and weak ethical standards that have eroded our confidence in her leadership,” said 33 faculty members in a statement of solidarity on March 28.
“We are here to have Chancellor Katehi fired or resign,” said UCD fourth-year biological sciences major Fay Pao. “We want to spread the word to have her at least take responsibility for what is going on.”
As a paid member of Wiley & Sons, she made an additional $420,000 from 2012-14, adding to her UCD Chancellor annual salary of about $410,000. Likewise, as a sitting member of DeVry, Katehi would have accepted an annual salary of $70,000 along with $100,000 restricted in stock units. DeVry University, one of the largest for-profit U.S. colleges, has been accused of deceiving customers of job likelihood, employment and earnings of its graduates according to a lawsuit filed in January by the Federal Trade Commission.
“I did not think DeVry was an appropriate board for one of our chancellors to be involved in,” UC President Janet Napolitano said to the Sacramento Bee. “I didn’t think it was appropriate for the University of California’s reputation to be linked with DeVry.”
In addition to Katehi’s seats on corporate boards, occupiers are also calling for her resignation due to her failure to address anti-blackness, Islamophobia and transphobia sentiments on campus.
Last month, an African American UCD student was assaulted near her home after being targeted for her race. Three men from Sacramento were arrested and two were charged with assault and committing a hate crime.
During the Mrak occupation, employees allegedly ripped down gender inclusive restroom signs and threw them away.
UCD and Katehi gained national attention in 2011 for the pepper spraying of several protesters. Katehi has since apologized for the incident.
“There’s a lot of brushing under the table and slapping on the wrist, but no real movement,” Pao said.
In an unscheduled meeting on March 15, Katehi briefly addressed allegations but left demonstrators unsatisfied with her attempts to schedule further meetings to discuss the occupiers’ concerns.
“A lot of what you said is totally incorrect and untrue,” she said in a video in her occupied waiting room. “You have a list of issues. I am very much willing to sit down with you, get my team together and have a discussion about what isn’t true about the things that you mentioned.”
Occupiers have since invited Katehi to another meeting at Mrak Hall on Friday.
The protesters also found support at the Capitol in nearby Sacramento. “I met with Chancellor Katehi this week and found her explanations [for accepting the board positions] … unsatisfactory and disappointing,” said Assemblymember Luis Alejo (D-Salinas), joining the handful of legislators calling for Katehi’s resignation. He also requested that the UC revise its conflict of interest policy to prevent similar moonlighting from occurring in the future.
While Napolitano agreed with lawmakers that the board position with DeVry was a conflict of interest, she doesn’t believe that Katehi should resign because of it. However, she launched a review of chancellors and senior university management positions concurrently serving on corporate boards.
Napolitano further defended Katehi’s position on the Wiley & Sons textbook company board, claiming that it is not a conflict of interest because the faculty choose the textbooks, not the chancellor.
“Quite frankly, I think having someone who’s involved in university life and … being at the board table when issues about textbooks are being discussed, I don’t think that’s a bad idea,” Napolitano said in the Sacramento Bee.
But Napolitano’s comments about Katehi’s tenure as chancellor did little to persuade the occupiers to desist, as the protest prepares to enter its fourth week. The UCD administration sent a notice to the occupiers, ordering them to vacate the building or face probation, suspension or expulsion.
Despite the threat of dismissal from the university, student organizers have planned future action for April 1, including a campuswide walkout and a rally at Mrak Hall.