All - I am posting an open letter sent to a mailing list for the UC Davis Center for Population Biology from Prof. Maureen Stanton (with her permission). Mau is a Professor in the Evolution and Ecology Department and has just recently been appointed Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at UC Davis.
Dear CPB members:
I have been listening and reading with great interest to the ongoing discussion about Friday's pepper-spraying travesty, and the subsequent calls for Chancellor Katehi's resignation. I want to add just a few words about my own experiences with the Chancellor, and how they've shaped my desire that she use this awful experience to transform herself into a better leader, rather than resigning. (My thoughts are captured perfectly by my faculty colleague Nina Amenta, whose open letter to the Chancellor is available through the link in her email below.)
There is excellent evidence from the behavior and psychology literature that we learn the toughest and longest-lasting lessons from our mistakes. I believe that the Chancellor made three whoppers this past week. First, she made a premature decision in asking the police to remove the encampment before there was any real threat to student learning or public safety. Second, despite the volatility of such events, she did not oversee the police-protester interaction herself. (I applaud President Yudof's new policy proposal that higher administration must personally be present at such actions.) Third, the Chancellor's first response did not sufficiently condemn the action taken by the police against peacefully resisting protesters. These are very significant errors that can be either be seen as evidence of irreversibly flawed leadership or as a crucible of experience that can change and enrich that leader.
It is abundantly clear that Chancellor Katehi is a driven individual who has ambitious plans for UCD, but I disagree with the notion that she is insensitive to students' concerns and thus cannot or will not be changed by this awful experience. I have worked with her on several efforts now, and it is clear to me that she cares deeply about improving access to university education and the academic ranks for women and people from diverse cultural, ethnic and economic backgrounds. She has done much more than "talk the talk"-- she has repeatedly invested her own time and campus resources into making UC Davis a more inclusive and accessible community. Based on those experiences, I believe that she has earned the chance to use this week's events to make UC Davis a better place and her own chancellorship more responsive.