It would require the willing suspension of disbelief to buy the account offered by newly appointed University of California (UC) Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi that she was unaware of the admissions scandal that is now engulfing her current employer, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne (UIUC).
For weeks now, the Chicago Tribune has detailed the well established and entrenched practice of circumventing the normal admissions process for the sons and daughters of the wealthy and powerful.
The practice at UIUC, known to top tier administrators and admissions staff as “Category I,” was an unofficial route for the underqualified to gain admission to UIUC. As many as 800 students were admitted through Category I since 2005, while Katehi served as UIUC’s chief academic and budget officer between 2006 and 2009.
When initially asked about the emerging scandal, which is now being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department, Katehi refused to speak with the press. After an article on her possible involvement was published by the Sacramento Bee, she attempted to clear the air by claiming that she had no knowledge of the practice and blamed those at a “higher level.”
Enterprising reporters, however, soon discovered through a search of publicly available documents that Category I was managed both by those above Dr. Katehi and by those who reported directly to her including Keith Marshall, associate provost for enrollment.
More documents subsequently revealed that Katehi was also in the loop on as many as 50 e-mails regarding many underachieving students. In fact, Katehi even forwarded information to her subordinates to review.
Despite the fact that these Category I cases involved top UIUC officials, lawmakers, and other individuals of note, Katehi maintains that she had no knowledge of what was happening.
She further says that she never once suspected that the level of interference and involvement by her superiors and Illinois government officials was in any way unusual.
There are only two conclusions that can be inferred from Katehi’s denials: either Dr. Katehi was complicit in this corruption and has chosen to remain silent for purposes of self-preservation, or she is a doe-eyed fool.
In either case, she is unfit to be a chancellor of the University of California.
This is because, as a public university system, the University of California exists to “serve society as a center of higher learning, providing long-term societal benefits through transmitting advanced knowledge, discovering new knowledge, and functioning as an active working repository of organized knowledge.”
In other words, the University of California exists broadly to help the people of California secure those “unalienable Rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
That Katehi comes out of an institutional culture where this very principle was subverted as a course of daily business and is now being summarily rewarded by the UC regents with an extraordinarily generous pay package should be a cause for concern to anyone dedicated to the proposition of liberty and justice for all.
Throughout the federal bailout of banks associated with today’s financial crisis and throughout California’s state budget crisis, there has been a growing sense that the public institutions created to serve We the People have now been redirected to cater to the rich and politically connected.
The UC regents’ decision to raise student fees by another 9%, while doling out an exorbitant pay package to Katehi in the middle of the state budget crisis is just the latest example of this.
That is why arguments to the effect that California is too big to fail are now being advanced in favor of a federal rescue. What proponents of a California bailout are effectively saying is that citizens of the Golden State deserve a golden parachute too, not just CEOs, UC chancellors, and other high-ranking members of the leisure class.
AFSCME local 3299 represents 17,000 workers at the University of California. Our union represents workers from every UC facility in the state, including the ten campuses, five medical centers, agricultural and marine research stations, and all other facilities that employ UC workers. Lakesha Harrison is president of AFSCME local 3299.