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UC Davis Academic Senate disputes conflict-of-interest allegation against chancellor

The son of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi was not working directly for her daughter-in-law, contrary to what was alleged  last week when Katehi was abruptly put on administrative leave, according to a review by the university’s Academic Senate.

UC President Janet Napolitano had ordered an outside investigation into “serious questions” over Katehi’s involvement in jobs for family members and possible misuse of student funds. The investigation also will examine what Napolitano called “material misstatements” about Katehi’s role in the hiring of social media firms to bury negative publicity about a campus police pepper-spraying of peaceful student protesters in 2011.

If proved, Napolitano said, the actions may violate university policies on conflicts of interest, ethical conduct and use of student fees.

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Napolitano pointed specifically to Katehi’s daughter-in-law, who directly reports to one of the chancellor’s staff members and had received promotions and pay increases of more than $50,000 over 2 1/2 years, according to a letter sent Wednesday to Katehi.

During that same period, Napolitano said, Katehi approved a pay increase of more than 20% and a title change for her daughter-in-law’s supervisor.

Napolitano also said that an academic program employing Katehi’s son as a paid graduate student researcher was recently placed under the direct supervision of the chancellor’s daughter-in-law.

“It does not appear that appropriate steps were taken to address, document or obtain approval for the fact that your son now reported to your daughter-in-law, who, in turn, was supervised by one of your direct reports,” Napolitano wrote.

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Katehi’s attorney has called the allegations “disappointing, unprecedented and, based on the facts, entirely unjustified.”

In an executive meeting called shortly after Katehi was put on leave, the Academic Senate at UC Davis reviewed the employment and compensation of Katehi’s son and found that he was not being directly supervised by the chancellor’s daughter-in-law or any other family member, Academic Senate Chair André Knoesen said in an email to the faculty group on Sunday.

“The student is employed in association with a research center, in a position appropriate for a graduate student,” said Knoesen, who is a professor in electrical and computer engineering.

The senate’s executive council is still in session and looks forward to sharing the information with the independent investigator, when appointed, he added.

A spokeswoman in the president’s office declined to comment on the Academic Senate’s findings, saying it was “inappropriate” to do so during an ongoing investigation.

The latest issues follow weeks of controversy over Katehi’s decision to take two paid board positions — one with a textbook publisher, the other with a for-profit firm, DeVry Education Group, which is being investigated by state and local authorities over allegations it deceived students about job and income prospects.

Katehi, a renowned scholar in electrical and computer engineering, has since drawn mixed reviews from faculty. Some have called for her resignation while more than 400 others signed a petition last week opposed to any “preemptory action” by Napolitano to remove the chancellor without consulting campus administrators or the Academic Senate, which also works with the administration on academic standards, faculty appointments, admissions guidelines and other university issues. 

Follow @TeresaWatanabe and @RosannaXia for more higher education news.

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