In Support Of Chancellor Katehi

November 23, 2011 by

Conflict with police has become a staple at Occupy Wall Street protests across the land. So why is one woman being singled out to take the blame, being asked to resign, and targeted for ouster?

For those not in the know, Linda Katehi is the Chancellor of UC Davis, where a viral video of police pepper-spraying sitting protesters was filmed on Friday, November 19th. Here’s the film, for those who haven’t seen it.

This incident started when alleged police brutality erupted on the UC Berkeley campus, where another viral video was filmed, when students attempted to occupy the campus with tents in protest of tuition and fee increases.

This film showed police officers using batons to beat back a crowd. UC Davis students then decided to protest in solidarity with students at UC Berkeley. Like Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau of UC Berkeley, Chancellor Katehi asked for police help in dispersing the students and preventing them from erecting tents on campus property. There is no evidence that either Chancellor coordinated with police about how to police the situations.

Here’s the video from UC Berkeley:

The reactions of both Chancellors have been somewhat similar. Both initially expressed support for the police. Both later apologized to the students and faculty. And both eventually called for an internal investigation. However, Chancellor Katehi has gone even further, meeting with students and faculty, and suspending the UC Davis Chief of Police. The only person currently facing suspension at UC Berkeley is a student protester.

In addition to the issue of police brutality, what matters here is that the treatment these two Chancellors have received in the aftermath of the incidents has been quite different, creating a double-standard, and suggesting that sexism is in play. While the students and faculty of UC Berkeley have called for an “independent investigation” of the university’s actions, they have not asked for the resignation of Chancellor Birgeneau. However, a movement begun via a letter penned by a white, male faculty member of UC Davis, Nathan Brown, has been calling for the resignation of Chancellor Katehi. This movement has started a petition with almost 80,000 signatures, and they are are now working to force her ouster. Here’s the opening of Professor Brown’s letter (full letter at the petition):

Linda P.B. Katehi,

I am a junior faculty member at UC Davis. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, and I teach in the Program in Critical Theory and in Science & Technology Studies. I have a strong record of research, teaching, and service. I am currently a Board Member of the Davis Faculty Association. I have also taken an active role in supporting the student movement to defend public education on our campus and throughout the UC system. In a word: I am the sort of young faculty member, like many of my colleagues, this campus needs. I am an asset to the University of California at Davis.

You are not.

There’s so much tell all over this letter, and what it tells of is a blatant disrespect for women in positions of authority, and a lot of privileged arrogance on the part of this professor. From the very beginning, by refusing to use her title he is showing his disrespect. But let’s just dispense with the most obvious fact first: that universities do not need more white male professors; they need more women of all races, especially in positions of power. The letter and the volumes of internet articles about Katehi have in no way proven that she is directly responsible for the actions of police, or even knew what they would be in advance. Katehi, like Birgeneau, is “guilty” of merely asking for police assistance. One immediately wonders why Professor Brown doesn’t also target Chancellor Birgeneau, on whose campus physical violence in the form of several batons was wielded.

Some facts about women in academics: Women have addressed the old “pipe-line” defense of male domination on college campuses, but that hasn’t solved the problem of barriers to women in leadership positions. There’s still a glass ceiling in academics. As usual, it’s the statistics (PDF) that tell the story:

A recent study by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) piques interest in the current role of women in higher education. The examination of 1,445 colleges and universities reveals that while women earn more than half of all Ph.D. degrees granted to American citizens today, they still comprise only about 45% of tenure-track faculty, 31% of tenured faculty, and just 24% of full professorships in 2005-2006 (West and Curtis 2006). More women than men are in part-time or non-tenure track positions, and the increasing scarcity of women as you look at higher academic ranks is clearly shown. Participation of women is lowest in the doctoral-granting institutions, where women constitute just 34% of full-time faculty, 26% of tenured faculty, and 19% of full professors.

While representation of women at higher professorial ranks is disappointing, women are even more scarce on the administrative career ladder. Relatively few women advance to top academic leadership positions such as dean, provost, president or chancellor. An exception is in traditionally female fields such as nursing and education (Dugger 2001a), yet many social science and professional fields have shown substantial gender desegregation and an increasing supply of women for these positions. Where women are in top positions, it is typically in smaller, less prestigious schools. With women over-represented at instructor/lecturer ranks and less likely (controlling for experience, publications, and educational attainment) and taking longer to reach the associate and full professor ranks (Dugger 2001b) which generally are tapped for leadership positions, the small number of women administrators is yet another piece of the problem.

Some fair questions: Is being pepper-sprayed worse than being physically beaten? Worse than the scenes of professors and student being dragged off by their hair, as happened at UC Berkeley? Why is Chancellor Katehi being singled out amidst of sea of male figures of authority who have called for police assistance in dealing with the protests, including a male Chancellor and several male mayors? So far the biggest targets for Occupiers’ complaints about official reaction to their protests have been Chancellor Katehi and Mayor Jean Quan, of Oakland. Why? And what does it tell us about the nature of the protests?

There have been lots of reports of Occupy Wall Street’s “woman problem.” The issues range from male domination of General Assemblies, sexist rhetoric and treatment, and the physical safety of women at the camps. Apparently, you can add problems with female authority figures to the list. Let’s hope this obvious witch-hunt is unsuccessful.

Tags: