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Chancellor Katehi gets to work: First week in new job includes meetings with Secretary of State Clinton, faculty, staff and students

August 21, 2009

Dean Kevin Johnson, right, leads Chancellor Linda Katehi on a construction tour at the law school, where a $30 million expansion and renovation project is under way. The tour took place Aug. 16 after Katehi met with the law school alumni board and before she attended a welcome barbecue for first-year law students. She was in Washington, D.C. the next day, her first official day as chancellor, and on Aug. 18 she was back on campus for several meetings, including one with the Academic Senates Executive Council. Maril Stratton/UC Davis

By Dave Jones

All across campus and all across the country, UC Davis’ new chancellor is on the job.

Linda Katehi took up her duties on Aug. 16, a day ahead of schedule, meeting at the law school with its alumni board and attending the annual welcome barbecue for first-year law students. Then she boarded a red-eye to Washington, D.C., for Aug. 17 meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Energy Department officials.

Tuesday, Aug. 18, Katehi was back on campus for a brown-bag lunch with the Council of Deans and Vice Chancellors, and other meetings. Her week also included a budget briefing, as the campus confronts a remaining shortfall of $33.5 million in state funds after already bridging an $80.5 million gap. The administration also must decide how to implement employee furloughs.

First, though, Katehi jetted to Washington “to make our strengths visible” — to show that UC Davis has what it takes to assist the federal government in energy efficiency and global development.

“Secretary Clinton is looking at developing international programs that will help U.S. foreign policy and make a worldwide impact. UC Davis can be a key player in that effort, owing to its long history of global outreach that betters people’s lives,” Katehi said in a statement upon her return.

Similarly, she said, the campus has much to offer the Department of Energy as it looks to establish eight Energy Innovation Hubs. Before leaving for Washington, Katehi said she would go to the Energy Department to promote UC Davis as the site for the research hub dealing with energy-efficient building systems design.

“DOE couldn’t ask for a better partner in this area, nor could the State Department find a surer bet in its priority area of science diplomacy,” the chancellor said Aug. 17 in her first e-mail message to the campus community.

“And I will take advantage of every opportunity to advance UC Davis’ interests.”

Others who accepted the invitation to Clinton’s education discussion included the presidents of Yale, Cornell and New York universities, the chairman of the National Knowledge Commission of India and the associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement at Africa University in Zimbabwe.

Nina V. Fedoroff, science and technology adviser to the secretary of state, said prior to the dinner that Katehi and the others would be on the ground floor of Clinton’s emerging initiative for higher education.

Fedoroff, a Penn State plant scientist, said higher education “has kind of fallen off the development table over the last couple of decades,” and Fedoroff would like to see that reversed.

She said “connections with university researchers” can aid Third World development, for example, in the area of food security — one of Clinton’s flagship issues.

Katehi’s activities on campus

Katehi’s week began at the School of Law, where she met with the King Hall Alumni Association board of directors and toured the King Hall construction project — $30 million worth of expansion and renovation, due for completion in May.

Then it was on to the Putah Creek Lodge for the law school’s barbecue for the Class of 2012. (The next day, the 200-plus first-year law students started a weeklong Introduction to Law course in preparation for the Aug. 24 start of the fall semester.)

“Like you, we are very excited to be here and very anxious,” the incoming chancellor told the 400 or so barbecue guests. She was accompanied by her husband, Spyros Tseregounis, who has received an appointment as a lecturer in the Department of Engineering.

“I have heard so many great things about the UC Davis law school,” Katehi said. “A great university cannot exist without having great professional schools.”

Dean Kevin Johnson said Katehi’s decision to attend the barbecue, even though she faced a tight schedule to get to Washington, “shows how committed she is to the UC Davis campus and the law school.”

Victoria Hassid, a third-year student who is president of the King Hall Law Student Association, said “it’s really impressive” to see her here, given her late-night flight and the fact that she is an engineer.

“Even though she is from a different professional background, she is showing us that she cares about our law school. She’s assuring us that she’s looking at us and she cares about us.”

Katehi’s schedule the rest of the week included meetings with faculty, staff and student leaders; state legislators; and The California Aggie and Davis Enterprise. She was expected to close out the week at the Aggie Football Women’s Huddle.

The Illinois ‘clout’ controversy

Katehi comes to UC Davis from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she served as provost for the last two years.

On May 29, three weeks after her appointment as UC Davis chancellor, the Urbana-Champaign campus became enmeshed in scandal when the Chicago Tribune launched a series of articles titled “Clout Goes to College,” about a list of about 800 applicants whom university trustees and others with connections hoped to see admitted, regardless of the applicants’ qualifications.

Katehi, who as provost was in charge of admissions, insisted that she “never attempted to alter, influence or interfere with the admissions decision of any applicant to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,” and that the so-called Category I admissions process was handled at a higher level in the institution.

University of Illinois President B. Joseph White and Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Richard Herman backed her up, and UC President Mark G. Yudof also stood by her.

And, in fact, when an Illinois state commission’s investigative report came out Aug. 6, Katehi’s name appeared nowhere in it. Instead, the commission condemned White, Herman, two deans and the university trustees for “failures of leadership.”

The commission said the U of I was not atypical among U.S. universities in lacking “a policy that specifically prohibited undue influence in admissions.”

Notable exceptions, according to the commission, include the UC system — and Katehi referenced the UC policy in her response to the Illinois report.

“I was particularly pleased to see its reference to the University of California as one of the few universities that have in place a clear policy prohibiting undue influence in admissions,” she said in an Aug. 7 statement from Greece, where she was vacationing prior to her move into Mrak Hall.

“As chancellor at UC Davis, I look forward to supporting the dedicated Student Affairs staff in their efforts to enroll students of accomplishment and promise in ways consistent with the values and policies of the University of California. I share those values, and I respect those policies.

“My hope is that the commission’s work will not only spur meaningful reforms at the University of Illinois but, in the process, may encourage a broader dialogue among universities about best practices for enhancing the fairness and openness of admissions decisions.”

On the Net

Chancellor Katehi's Web page

UC Davis budget news



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