UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said Wednesday that relying on bad information and a flawed decision-making process caused her to be to quick to send in police to remove an Occupy Davis encampment.
The bungled police operation of Nov. 18 followed, with a dozen protesters pepper-sprayed and 10 more arrested.
The chancellor gave some of her most detailed comments yet on what went wrong during her first appearance before the UC Davis Academic Senate since its Executive Council voted to censure her for her actions.
“I should have, we should have, allowed the students to stay with the tents,” Katehi told the Senate’s representative assembly at the UCD Conference Center, adding, “It pays a lot more to get more engaged with the students, to have a greater discussion and to really assess whether taking action (will) benefit the university.”
The Senate’s Executive Council handed out the reprimand last week. It stopped short of doing what a special committee urged it to do: call for the resignation of Katehi and two vice chancellors.
Those moves have angered some faculty members, including 23 of the campus’ most decorated. Members of the National Academies penned a letter to The Enterprise calling the actions “not only unfair” to Katehi, but “deceptive, inappropriate and counterproductive to the mission of UC Davis.”
During a wide-ranging, two-hour discussion, Katehi said “there were failures in process, in decisions, in communication and there were failures in organization, both within the administration and the police” that led to the pepper-spraying.
In keeping with how things had been done “historically,” Katehi said that meetings of her ad hoc leadership team took place on conference calls. That already has changed, she said.
“If you are (meeting) in person, you can recognize who has the appropriate information and encourage (them) to come forward and be engaged. In a phone conversation, it’s very hard to do this — especially when there are many voices coming in,” she said.
In one such call, Griselda Castro, assistant vice chancellor of student affairs, disputed an incorrect police report that raised fears among campus leaders about non-students in the camp. She argued against police action, she told Kroll Associates Inc. investigators, but was met with silence.
Said Katehi, “The mistake … that I made is that I relied on information without questioning it.”
Investigators found that Katehi’s subordinates believed she had given an order to send in police on that Friday afternoon, because of her concerns about the camp remaining over a weekend.
Doing so flew in the face of what police had done elsewhere, removing Occupy camps at night. It also left open the legal question of how protesters could be cited for overnight camping in the afternoon.
“I made a tactical decision that was inappropriate,” Katehi said. “My lack of understanding (of) how the police (work) let me get there … I personally never felt that I made an executive decision, but it was taken as such by a few — and that needs to be corrected.”
Another “lesson learned”: “There are very few events that may be life-threatening that require immediate action,” she said.
“What we’ve learned since then is that it’s better to give ourselves time and bring all of the voices to the plate as we make decisions.”
The administration has posted the first of what Katehi said are possible steps to prevent another such incident. It also will draw on both the recommendations of the Senate’s special committee and those of a report, released Friday, on the UC system’s policing of protests.
Katehi has taken heat for declining to discuss the pepper-spraying incident in detail. She said Wednesday she has remained quiet because she did not want to affect the probes that were under way, including a police internal affairs investigation.
“Did this hurt me personally? Absolutely,” she said, “because people took me as untruthful, or whatever, but I cannot violate that principle … I’m running the risk my own statements will bias a decision (and) invalidate the investigation.”
Some faculty criticized the committee and Executive Council for its actions.
Walter Leal, an entomology professor, said the committee “overreached” by urging a call for resignations, but Senate Chair Linda Bisson said the Executive Council asked it to address personnel matters.
Critics noted the narrow margins in committee votes calling for resignations (3-2 to ask for Katehi’s and 4-1 to ask for those of Vice Chancellors John Meyer and Fred Wood). Bisson said the Executive Council’s vote on censure ended with more than 20 of the 24 voting members on hand in favor.
Some professors said they were perplexed that the actions took place after the faculty at large in February voted down a no-confidence measure by a 2-to-1 margin.
“The issue was decided. I personally think we’re making a mockery of democracy,” said engineering professor Subhash Mahajan.
The chairwoman of the special committee, Julia Simon, a professor of French, said the recommendations were not meant to represent the views of the whole campus — but those “arrived at by a group of people representing various constituencies and interests who spent four months poring over documents.”
Another faculty vote on its confidence in the chancellor has been proposed, Bisson said.
Christopher Reynolds, chair of the music department, said that while he agreed with many committee conclusions, he believed its members should not have called for the resignations of Wood and Meyer.
Reynolds said they are among the campus’ best administrators: “It seems to me like one strike and you’re out.”
Neil McRoberts, a plant pathology professor, was among those who believed censure drew more unwelcome publicity. He said such a matter could have been handled privately.
Countered Simon, the committee chair, “It seems to me the height of hypocrisy to hold someone publicly accountable in a secret document.”
— Reach Cory Golden at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden