Bloomberg News

Greek Uprising Shaped California Educator in Pepper-Spray Storm

November 30, 2011

Nov. 22 (Bloomberg) -- As a 19-year-old student in Greece, Linda P.B. Katehi watched as the military government used tanks to put down a student uprising at the National Technical University of Athens.

Now 57 and the leader of the University of California Davis, the third-largest of the system’s 10 schools, Katehi faces accusations of using heavy-handed tactics after a campus police officer pepper-sprayed a group of sitting protesters who appeared be offering no resistance.

A video clip of the Nov. 18 incident about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Sacramento had attracted 1.5 million views on YouTube by yesterday. The spraying stirred outrage at the 32,300-student school, with calls for a class boycott Nov. 28 and for Katehi to resign.

“I am here to apologize,” the chancellor said to hundreds gathered on the campus quad yesterday. “I really feel horrible for what happened on Friday. If you think you don’t want to be students at the university we had on Friday, I’m just telling you that I don’t want to be chancellor of the university that we had on Friday.”

She recalled the events of Nov. 17, 1973, when the Greek junta sent a tank through the iron gates of the school to quash a protest against military rule by students who had barricaded themselves inside. At least 24 people were killed in the uprising that day, which is commemorated each year by Greek schools.

“I was there and I don’t want to forget that,” Katehi told the Davis students.

Funding Cuts

She didn’t elaborate and wasn’t available for an interview later in the day, said Evelyn Padilla, a university spokeswoman. A photo of Katehi addressing the crowd and the words “I’m here to apologize” take up the top third of the university website’s home page.

An electrical and computer engineer, Katehi has headed the University of California at Davis campus since 2009. This year, California cut funding for the system by $650 million, resulting in higher tuition and student fees.

On-campus tuition and fees at UC Davis rose to $13,860 for the current school year from $13,080 in 2010-2011. U.S. states facing $40.5 billion of budget gaps in the current fiscal year may cut $5 billion from higher education, according to the Washington-based National Association of State Budget Officers.

Setting Up Tents

Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, UC Davis students and others set up an encampment on the quad to protest the higher costs. On Nov. 18, Katehi ordered the tents removed by 3 p.m. When some of the campers declined to comply, police dismantled their tents. A row of students lined the pavement to block the police, and one officer doused the protesters with pepper spray, the video showed.

Katehi placed the police chief, Annette Spicuzza, and two officers on leave, according to a statement from the university. The statement didn’t identify the officers. Katehi said she was forming a task force to investigate the incident and provide a report within 90 days.

The suspensions didn’t diminish calls for Katehi to step down. At the rally yesterday, the chancellor stood to the side of the stage as an English professor, Nathan Brown, took the microphone to demand her resignation as students cheered.

‘Backpedaling and Obfuscation’

“What we see in the chancellor’s statements are the same techniques of backpedaling and obfuscation that are used by the powers that be every time there is an act of police violence in this country,” Brown said. “Her efforts are transparent. They are efforts to defer and displace criticism.”

Katahi’s boss, University of California President Mark Yudof, “has expressed his confidence in and full support of Chancellor Katehi,” a spokesman, Steve Montiel, said in an e- mail message.

Katehi told students that she would meet with them in the coming days “to earn your trust.” After leaving the stage, she was surrounded by students, many shouting “Don’t come back!” She didn’t answer questions from the press.

Katehi has been an active and visible chancellor at Davis, which often has labored in the shadow of the more prominent University of California Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses, said Kevin Johnson, the law school dean. As the first female chancellor there, she understands political challenges, Johnson said by telephone.

“This is a very tough situation for anyone in good times,” he said. “And these are not good times.”

--Editors: Mark Schoifet, Stephen Merelman

To contact the reporter on this story: James Nash in Sacramento at jnash24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: William Glasgall at wglasgall@bloomberg.net


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