The University of California, Davis, is about 185 miles away, or three hours by car, from Fresno. Other universities, such as Fresno State, UC Merced and Fresno Pacific, command the lion’s share of our attention.
But UC Davis is vital to the San Joaquin Valley. It is the campus that many Valley youngsters dream of attending and a good number of them realize that goal.
If you love animals and want to be a veterinarian, UC Davis is the No. 1 choice of many ambitious, compassionate and hard-working students.
If you are a rancher or grower, you have likely felt the positive impacts of the university’s scientific expertise and research in agriculture.
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And if you love the outdoors and want to see nature preserved, the environmental science researchers at Davis have made a difference in your life, too.
So the search for a new chancellor after Linda P.B. Katehi’s forced resignation last week is important to the Valley.
An accomplished engineer and scholar, Katehi quit the prestigious position after she was found to have violated university policy and misled her bosses and the public. Her human lapses are now famous: the “pepper-spray incident” in which campus police abused student protesters; the effort to scrub references to it and her own name from “the Google”; the joining of corporate boards that reflected poorly on UC; the first-class travel.
But Katehi had strengths, too. She raised millions of dollars for UC Davis, was strategic and worked exceptionally well with the business community in Sacramento and throughout California. She thought big.
Those strengths benefited the campus. UC Davis routinely places highly in public university rankings, was recently named the best school in the nation for women in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math, and just had its best fundraising year ever.
While the next chancellor should have the diplomatic skills, emotional intelligence and good judgment to restore equilibrium at UC Davis, the search committee shouldn’t over-correct.
So while her replacement must possess the diplomacy, emotional intelligence and good judgment to restore equilibrium at UC Davis, the search committee shouldn’t over-correct.
For instance, Katehi’s board memberships were problematic and her travel expenses raised eyebrows, but that shouldn’t diminish the next chancellor’s perks and pay more than it already has. The Davis faculty won’t settle for less than a scholar with impeccable academic credentials, and such candidates often have many options.
Nor should her successor have less ambition – for anyone on campus. The humanities at Davis have tended to play second fiddle to the sciences, and the next chancellor should try to restore balance. In agriculture and tech, the campus is the food industry’s answer to Stanford and Silicon Valley. That side needs a culture in which entrepreneurship is stressed.
We hope that the search committee appointments – drawn by law from regents, faculty, donors, staff, students and alumni – will include voices from the San Joaquin Valley and not just those from the Sacramento area.
Naming a new chancellor will take months, which makes sense. It’s a complex job. UC leadership should use the time wisely, look to build on past successes – including Katehi’s – and be smart in the lessons that it applies moving forward.