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Better-prepared UCD will show more patience with protesters, Katehi says

With sorrow and fatigue etched on her face, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi waits in line for her turn to speak to the throng gathered Nov. 21 on the campus Quad. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise file photo

By
From page A1 | November 18, 2012 |

In the wake of the pepper-spraying of protesters on campus last Nov. 18, Chancellor Linda Katehi apologized to thousands at a rally on the Quad.

Investigators scrutinized her decisions. State legislators questioned her at length. And faculty voted on her leadership.

During an interview Friday with The Enterprise, Katehi said many reforms prompted by the incident are in place or moving forward and that campus leaders are in better communication with each other, the police and their community.

If a similar protest were held on campus today, how would it be handled differently?

A protest in public that doesn’t violate university policy is nothing that would trigger any action from our side. People on our campus should feel free to express themselves. The only reason the police would be there is just to make sure that the crowd is safe.

A few things are in violation of university policy. For example, having tents or sleeping on the Quad (without a permit), especially if you have non-affiliates there, is a violation of policy. Closing classrooms or not allowing people to enter if they have a class is in violation of policy. Being inside overnight in buildings that are supposed to be locked is a violation of policy.

We have many more individuals who are working with our Office of Student Affairs, like counselors, who are engaging with the students to make it clear to them that their actions, at that point in time, violate policy.

We will show a lot of patience and flexibility. Nothing is going to happen the first day. Let’s assume that students take over a building. We will spend a lot of time the first night to help them understand that there are other ways to express their frustration and we’re willing to engage in a discussion.

Now, if there are days and days (of protests), like what happened with the (US Bank protests at the Memorial Union last winter), for example, at some point in time we would have to make a decision.

You said often last year that the campus should be a welcoming place for everyone. In what areas do you feel like you still have work to do to fulfill that goal?

The police have made a lot of changes. Before, the officers would go around campus in their cars; now, they move around the campus on bikes and they blend a lot better with the rest of us. They have tried to make the students feel more familiar with them, to think of them as members of our community rather than the police on the other side.

There have been concerns by underrepresented (minority) students that they are singled out, either by our police or the Davis police. There is a broad perception that underrepresented students don’t feel comfortable in the presence of the police.

That is one area where we need to do a lot of work. I know that (UCD Police Chief) Matt (Carmichael) is aware of that and he’s working hard, and we need to do more to make those students of color, faculty of color and staff of color feel safe on our campus.

The Reynoso report put a lot of emphasis of the decision-making process. What are the most significant changes that have been made within the administration?

We moved the police under the provost, and that was a good change because it brought the police within the group that really talks about academic issues. Matt has been involved in many more discussions that involve academics. We talk about students. We talk about their safety.

So the police feel more a part of the institution — they’re feeling more integrated and they’re more knowledgable about how we’re trying to help our students, the fact that we’re trying to make students the center of our campus and the focus of our work and our mission.

That was not quite there before. That is the biggest change. I have observed it myself in the way that Matt thinks about the police and the way the rest of us in academics know a lot more about the police than ever before.

We have all been trained in ways that we had not before. We have a lot more interaction. We are a lot more prepared. We have been talking about issues of safety and how to approach those in ways we have not done in the past.

Personally, I have a really good feeling that we have a much broader understanding of how to make our campus more safe, what the needs of the students are, what their sensitivities are, what their freedoms are and to respect those.

We have the Campus Community Council, which has brought the community into discussions with us. This kind of communication was never there before. The way the community has connected with us and the way the police are connected with the institution — that was never there before.

The Reynoso report talked about formalizing the decision-making process, that before Nov. 18 people met as they could on the phone and sometimes that could lead to misunderstandings. How have you changed that?

We have followed the (National Incident Management System) process for emergency response. We have one core group that will be the ones to make the decisions. The core group is also assisted by other individuals called the (Campus) Emergency and Crisis Management Team.

We all meet together — no one is on the phone unless there is a crisis that happens when myself and the provost are out of town. Unless there is a life-threatening emergency, no major decisions would be made unless the provost or I am here in person. If there’s a life-threatening situation, the chief of police has the right to take whatever actions are needed.

We have developed these processes, we have notes, we have minutes, we have a website. We’re all connected via text and email if there’s a crisis. If there’s no crisis, we have to discuss things in person. When we meet, we all have to agree. If there’s a dissenting voice, we have to record it.

At the end of the day, a decision has to be made and that decision is my responsibility and the provost’s responsibility.

One of the things that the pepper-spraying seemed to reveal was that there was a faction of faculty and a lot of students who felt they didn’t know you. What strides have you been able to make in reaching out?

We are a big place — 4,000 faculty, 2,500 members of the senate, the rest are lecturers, researchers. Last year, when all of this hit, I was in my second year. The reason I’m saying that is that when I came here, as the new incoming chancellor, I did not spend enough time to go and get to know people.

Last year, obviously, for the wrong reasons — because I wish I had done this without an event like Nov. 18 — both the provost and I started meeting not just with the colleges but with individual units.

We have 150 departments, so we have not been able to cover all of them. This year, that’s what I am doing. We have events at the residence where we invite faculty. We try to cover as much as we can.

The campus has grown in ways that no other university has grown. In the last 10, 15 years, the campus almost doubled in size, in faculty. In the process of doing that, we brought in a lot of faculty but there was not enough time was spent addressing a number of growing pains that the individual units have dealt with.

The cuts of the last three years only highlighted the difficulties and made people even more frustrated. There was tremendous uncertainty. A lot of faculty have felt isolated.

A lot of changes needed to be made in a short period of time because of the cuts. A lot of faculty felt a lot of discussions didn’t happen before the decisions were made; not just my decisions but decisions made at every level.

The same thing about students. Students have not seen the chancellor. Some did not even know what the chancellor did. We have done a lot of outreach with students. We have meals at Mrak (Hall), where students come and have breakfast or lunch. We have meetings with our graduates.

This year, we have decided to get an additional undergraduate assistant to the chancellor to be able to organize events in the dorms, in the cafeterias, in the coffee places. I met the other day with the Aggie Ambassadors. Yesterday, I was with the football team. So I’m trying to go to all of these events and give the students as much access to me as possible.

In the days immediately following Nov. 18, that was a very trying time. How did that experience change how you see your job and how did it affect you personally?

Public research universities are under tremendous stress. I hear more and more problems, whether it’s of this type or in athletics or in academics or other things that really impact chancellors in a big way. There is tremendous stress because of reduction in funds.

There is tremendous oversight from the public. The public is upset, they don’t see public institutions as serving the needs of the public. They see us as becoming more exclusive and elitist. We have a lot of stresses in the system.

An experience like that is not different from any other personal crisis you may have in your life. If you survive it, you do a lot of self-reflection. If it does not break you immediately, you try to analyze, you try to correct yourself.

The first thing you ask is, What have I done wrong in this? That is important because if you learn from those experiences, obviously you’re going to become a better person. That is a difficult process.

I think I did a lot of that. I asked myself a lot of questions. And I will have many more for years to come. Some of them, I left for later. But that’s what it takes.

It makes you a different person — hopefully better, but definitely different.

Under the proposed settlement agreement with the protesters, you would be writing letters to the students who were arrested or pepper-sprayed. Have you given some thoughts to some of the things you would say?

I have not done that yet, because we’re still in the process (of getting a judge’s approval for the settlement). I think it’s a great opportunity for me to really express my personal apologies for the event, because I really felt the event did not represent the university in terms of our values and in terms of our mission.

In my role as a chancellor, I need to send an important message to our students. An event like that should not being a learning event for some, it should be a learning event for all. I don’t know how I’m going to say that, but that’s how I’m thinking about it.

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Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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