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In Defense of Linda Katehi, UC Davis Chancellor

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UC DAVIS PEPPERY SPRAY
AP
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As the world continues to focus on what took place at the University of California, Davis and more specifically on the school's chancellor, Dr. Linda Katehi -- I feel compelled to add my voice to the outcry. Although I join the tens of thousands in the condemnation against the UC Davis campus police and the tragic use of chemical agents against students, I will not join the calls demanding Katehi's resignation.

Some have already asked if I'm defending Katehi because we are both Greek. I don't care if she's Chinese. My beliefs have nothing to do with her ethnic background, or the fact that I know her personally. There is, however, a compelling Greek element to this story, which was a factor in my writing this piece.

It is important to understand Linda Katehi's background and how it has shaped her commitment to education -- and making education accessible to those who traditionally do not have access to it.

Katehi grew up on a small island in Greece with dreams of becoming an electrical engineer. There was no library in her hometown and no other woman from there had ever gone to college. She went on to study at the famed Polytechnic School of Athens and was one of only 2 women in a class of 190 students when she graduated in 1977 -- the most turbulent years in the history of modern Greece that no doubt had an indelible impact on her.

Linda Katehi -- as a student at the Polytechnic, experienced tanks breaking down the gates of her school and fellow classmates -- dozens of them -- killed by a brutal military dictatorship. "I was there and I don't want to forget that," Katehi told the Davis students who had gathered a few days after the incident at a rally.

I'll repeat the quote for those who still chose to vilify Linda Katehi. "I was there and I don't want to forget that." And if you think she should still be referred to as "chemical Linda" as some have, watch the video. If you don't believe her, then she deserves an Oscar for her performance.

At first glance the UC Davis pepper spray story is a classic case of abuse of power. But when the story's facts are peeled away, unfolding one unreported untold detail after another -- a different story begins to appear.

An important fact continuously ignored is that Katehi actually gave permission for students to "occupy" the campus. Katehi and her administration even attempted on several occasions to engage the group -- seeking to provide support to the students, listen to their concerns and provide them with several opportunities -- legal opportunities -- to express their opinions and make their voices heard.

But as non-students moved in, safety and potential sanitation issues arose. The non-students represented a violation of the university's trespassing policy and the tents and encampments had already resulted in health violations reported to the administration. It was only then that Katehi ordered the encampment be removed. Some moved, but others, like those witnessed on video, refused.

Katehi and her administration informed the group that tents and overnight encampments were illegal. They were informed verbally, as well as in writing, throughout the course of their demonstrations.

The few dozen demonstrating students presented no specific demands against the school administration itself. They were protesting against the economic crisis in the state, the lack of jobs in California and increased tuition in the University of California network and a drop in state funding for education -- all valid and important concerns that Katehi herself has been working on during her tenure at UC Davis.

University campuses have always been a wellspring of expression of thought and social change -- and any activity to limit this is un-democratic and un-American. But to vilify Linda Katehi is just plain wrong. She has consistently been an advocate for the very issues the students purported to demonstrate in favor of.

She has been on the front lines steadfastly criticizing the state government for its cuts in education spending and finding alternative ways to meet budget shortfalls. She's implemented a $1 billion fundraising campaign focused almost entirely on scholarships (making education accessible to those who normally could not afford it) and other programs that benefit the student.

Let me be clear: campus police were absolutely unjustified in using chemical agents against these students and protestors. The officers involved, as well as the chief should not only be placed on administrative leave -- they should be fired.

Yet Linda Katehi did NOT approve the use of force. She repeatedly stated this -- or has attempted to state this. I wonder if the loud roar of the crowd has stopped to even listen. "I explicitly directed the chief of police that violence should be avoided at all costs," she told a gathered crowd of over 1000 students at a town hall.

Not only is Linda Katehi not responsible for what happened, she is an ally to the protestors. This is an academic official that -- by most accounts -- has performed her duties well. Not only is she a Chancellor on the side of the student, but she knows first hand the power of student movements (her generation of students at the Polytechnic helped bring down a dictatorship after all), and who has witnessed violence directed against her generation that our present occupiers can only witness in the movie theaters.

Two arguments that I've heard against Linda Katehi don't make sense to me.

First -- that she should have known what the police were doing at all times. It's ludicrous to think that the chancellor of a huge university community like UC Davis should be micro-managing the police. It is clear that she gave orders not to use violence. Now if the police went against her orders and used pepper spray -- can you really blame Katehi?

Secondly -- I've read some blogs and reports about Katehi's secret, deep-down desires to curb educational freedoms at UC Davis, based upon her involvement in an international academic body that was asked by Greece's (socialist) government to help make suggestions to reform an educational system that is in shambles.

This too, is a ridiculous accusation, knowing that Linda's involvement in this committee comes from her true desire to help implement positive change in her ancestral homeland and that it was the socialists themselves who approved these recommendations.

Those who turn their back on Linda Katehi, are turning their back on the one academic official with both the record of supporting student concerns and the personal experience to empathize with them.

No, Linda Katehi should not resign.