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UC Probing Use of Funds by Santa Barbara Chancellor

Times Staff Writer

The University of California is investigating whether UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Robert Huttenback may have misused university funds for household expenses, and for this reason and others a group of faculty leaders and student body officers have suggested that he resign, The Times has learned.

Nine prominent faculty members, including the chairman and vice chairman of the Academic Senate, signed an April 7 letter to David Gardner, president of the University of California, stating that “it is in the best interests of the campus and the university that Chancellor Huttenback consider resigning.”

The letter raised a number of broad criticisms of Huttenback’s performance as chancellor, including his “judgment, priorities and effectiveness in academic matters,” his “diminished capacity to provide the moral authority to lead and represent this campus,” and “alienation of student leaders.”

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A member of the university system’s business staff was sent from Berkeley several weeks ago to investigate whether Huttenback used university funds for his home, including the refurbishment of his kitchen. The results of the investigation--which was precipitated by a complaint to the UC Board of Regents--will be released next week, a spokesman for the university system said.

In an interview, Huttenback acknowledged using university funds to refurbish the kitchen of his home. He declined to describe the improvements in detail, but said he thought the expenditures were justified because he often uses his house for university purposes. He said that he believes the investigation will uncover no wrongdoing, and that those who called for his resignation represent some disgruntled faculty and students and do not represent the majority.

‘Possibly Libelous’

“This letter contains extremely broad and possibly libelous charges,” Huttenback said. “If the people I greatly respected--the productive faculty--wanted me to resign, I would. But I think we’re doing the right things and as long as it meets the approval of people who are the heart and soul of the university, I’ll keep doing them.”

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In addition to the chairman and vice chairman of the Academic Senate--political science professor A. E. Keir Nash and sociology professor Richard Flacks--six heads of major senate committees also signed the letter. But the letter represented the opinion of the professors, not of the senate, which is the governing faculty body.

Ron Kolb, news director for the UC system, said a letter from faculty members suggesting that a chancellor resign was “unusual. I can’t recall it being done before.”

Students Critical

Huttenback, a brash, outspoken leader who has generated controversy almost since he became chancellor in 1978, also has been under fire from the students. Student body President Ken Greenstein said he and two other student body officers met with Huttenback last week and suggested that he resign. And at the student spring election scheduled to take place Wednesday, students will hold a vote of confidence in the chancellor. Student leaders claim that Huttenback has formed his own student advisory council to bypass student government and that he is unresponsive to their concerns.

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But even his detractors acknowledge that Huttenback has done much for the reputation of the university. He has attempted to transform UC Santa Barbara into a nationally respected institution and has lured prestigious faculty members, top students and well respected programs.

But with his accomplishments have come problems, and during the last few weeks, the difficulties have come to a head.

Battle in Progress

“There’s a mini-war going on,” said Bernard Kirtman, chairman of the chemistry department and former head of the Academic Senate. He was not one of the signatories of the letter to Gardner. “It’s obviously not good for the university. I don’t know how long it will take for the repercussions to end. There’s a lot of ill feelings around.”

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The faculty has grumbled for years about Huttenback’s style of operating. Faculty critics say he often makes unilateral, impetuous decisions in matters of hiring and firing and establishing programs, and that he frequently bypasses or ignores the Academic Senate.

Huttenback’s recent problems were compounded when a faculty member reported to police last week that Huttenback drove into him and a student who were blocking an exit after an anti-apartheid rally. Neither was injured, but Jerry Fresia, a part-time political science lecturer, claimed Huttenback intentionally hit the two and then turned around and drove off.

Huttenback claimed he just “touched” them with his car, turned around and left. “If anyone was hurt,” he said, “it would have been the biggest miracle since the Immaculate Conception.”

The majority of the professors who signed the letter requested anonymity. And Gardner said in a statement that he would not meet with the faculty members until they officially confer with Huttenback.

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But several said in interviews that a critical issue contributing to the decision to draft the letter was the debacle that resulted from Huttenback’s decision to back a $160-million power plant on campus. It was indicative of Huttenback’s style of ignoring faculty advice, professors said, and resulted in the resignation in January of the university’s second-ranking administrator, Vice Chancellor Raymond Sawyer. Sawyer could not be reached for comment.

“The vice chancellor is the most important person on campus from a faculty point of view and he was very well respected,” Flacks said. “You almost don’t need to know any more than this to know that the chancellor has a problem.”

The university had sought bids from more than 100 companies to build and operate the plant; about 20 responded and the university narrowed the list to eight. When it turned out that Southern California Edison reduced the amount of money it would pay for the electricity--one source of revenue for the plant--only one firm last spring stayed with the project.

The head of the firm was Barney Klinger, who was on the board of UCSB’s University Foundation and was a prominent university fund-raiser. Other companies had dropped out of the bidding, critics contended, because they didn’t know that electricity generated by the plant could be sold to offshore oil operations, which Klinger had later proposed.

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Detractors of the project claimed there was a conflict of interest and Klinger was given special treatment. UC system attorneys recently recommended that the bidding be reopened.

‘Possible Conflict’

“If the university were a public agency like the city or water district and if the only person left in the bidding turned out to be a personal friend of a higher-up . . . then the grand jury would want to know about it,” said history professor Frank Frost, a former county supervisor. “It certainly would be regarded as a possible conflict of interest. It’s pretty naive not to think this would not look irregular.”

The charges of conflict of interest are “absurd,” Huttenback said. And the plan, he said, would have enormously benefited the university.

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“Just because Klinger was on the foundation doesn’t mean there’s a problem,” he said. “We expect people on our board to help us. And Klinger didn’t stand to make any personal money on this project.”

Faculty members also criticize Huttenback for impetuously supporting what they regard as questionable programs, including an advanced institute for the study of food and wine. Budget and leadership problems at the Robert Maynard Hutchins Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions also have caused grumbling.

Embarrassment Cited

It is embarrassing for the university, professors complain, that Huttenback is being investigated for expenditures on his house.

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In 1982, after another complaint to the regents, Huttenback was accused of improperly using faculty funds for his own research projects. The investigation turned up no violation of state law or university regulations, but the auditor questioned the propriety of a UC chancellor using research money that is normally reserved for faculty, and suggested that the regents consider establishing rules against such practices.

Despite the discontent of some, Huttenback has support among a segment of the faculty because of his accomplishments. Glen Wade, a professor of engineering, said his department was able to attract top faculty members and an internationally respected engineer to head the school, and a new engineering building is under construction. Without Huttenback’s leadership, Wade said, he doubts that the department of engineering would have accomplished so much.

“I’ve been here 20 years and this is the most exciting era I’ve seen,” Wade said. “He’s really got this campus on the move.”

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During Huttenback’s first year as chancellor, private donations to the campus totaled about $1.4 million and there were no endowed chairs, university spokesman said. This school year the total is already more than $9 million and there are four endowed chairs.

And UCSB recently has lured prestigious programs, such as a center for robotics and microelectronics, a $14-million dollar program funded by the National Science Foundation. More than 100 universities vied for centers and only six were funded.

And he helped create at UCSB the Institute for Theoretical Physics, one of the top physics research centers in the country.

Under Huttenback’s tenure, UCSB has attracted a Nobel laureate, and faculty who are members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering have increased by about 10.

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“The university has changed gears and it may be difficult for some faculty members,” Huttenback said. “Sure we move with some speed now--I believe in moving promptly. If I didn’t, we wouldn’t have the Institute for Theoretical Physics here. Our fund raising has been extremely successful--somebody must believe in us.”


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