Letter from #UCDavis Profs to Janet Napolitano about possible sexism in responses to Chancellor Katehi’s activities

The current Chair of the UC Davis Division of the Academic Senate forwarded an email to UC Davis faculty today.  This email included a letter that had been send from from Linda Bisson (past Chair of the UC Davis Division of the Academic Senate) and Rachael E. Goodhue (Chair Elect of UC Davis Division of the Academic Senate) to the President of the University of California Janet Napolitano.  The letter’s overall message is concern about possible sexism in how the Chancellor of UC Davis is being treated in regard to recent events at UC Davis. 
I note – I have received many (over a dozen) private messages also expressing concern that some of the reaction to Chancellor Katehi’s activities may be sexist.  Mind you – most of these people are not defending the activities of the Chancellor but are concerned about the responses to her activities.  I think it is important for these expressions to be more widely viewed and thus I asked Linda Bisson if I could post it here and she said yes. 

From: Linda Bisson
Date: Sun, Apr 24, 2016 at 6:43 AM
Subject: Letter to President Napolitano

Dear President Napolitano:

We want to express grave concern over a pattern of negativism in the press and social media regarding women Chancellors and senior administrative leaders. There are strong parallels between the singularly intensive criticism of our Chancellor Linda Katehi and that previously of Chancellors Fox (UCSD) and Denton (UCSC), and of UC Vice President Greenwood. Yet, the activities that are being criticized clearly fall within the standards of UCwide practice. This pattern is exemplified by a 2006 LA Times article that criticized compensation practices for senior UC executives: those singled out for criticism for “extravagant pay practices, perks and privilege for top executives” are all women (http://articles.latimes.com/2006/feb/16/local/me-cap16). The intensity of the criticism at the time ended in tragedy for Chancellor Denton. Chancellor Fox’s term was equally framed as fraught with turmoil, turmoil apparently not experienced by her male colleagues who were facing identical issues due to budget cuts and lack of diversity and inclusion. In an article in the San Diego Union Tribune written on Chancellor Fox’s decision to step down (http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2011/jul/05/fox- leaving-ucsd/?#article-copy), she is described in terms steeped in implicit gender bias such as the quote ascribed to former President Atkinson: “She handled that as well as she could have handled it” – not as well as anyone could have handled it or as well as it could have been handled.

Women in leadership positions are often the victims of intense implicit bias and, as a consequence, of the phenomenon of “single storyism” – the reduction of their actions to a simple narrative that appeals to the biases of a broad section of society, in this case implicit gender bias and women being incompetent for their position. Whatever they say or do in response is twisted to fit the “single story.” We think the LA Times article listed above illustrates perfectly the problem of the single story experienced by senior women administrators at UC. If the LA Times story were rewritten today, Chancellor Katehi’s name is likely the only one that would be added to the list.

All of UC is richer because of the participation of women and underrepresented groups at all levels. We know you and your leadership team share this belief. We are concerned that UCOP does not recognize that senior administrators who are identified with an underrepresented identity vital to our diversity are subject to vilification in the press simply because of that identity. We are also concerned, as recent press regarding our Chancellor Katehi demonstrates, that Chancellors and other senior administrators are not well-equipped to deal with single storyism, nor is there the recognition that others, such as UCOP, must step in to address the criticism as well.

The absence of factual information on UC policies and practices with respect to external compensation for all senior administrators has led to speculative and negative public debate regarding a single senior woman, when the practice of external involvement is widespread. We would like to request clear articulation from UCOP of both the formal policies and the informal practices as they pertain to executive compensation (e.g., have senior managers been encouraged to participate in activities outside UC). We note that legislators are calling for the same review. UCOP’s understanding of the broader issues involved is essential to informing these external discussions. The need for UCOP to take action is urgent.

We thank you for considering this request.

Linda F. Bisson, Former Chair, Davis Division of the Academic Senate, 2006-2008 & 2011-2012
Rachael E. Goodhue, Chair Elect, Davis Division of the Academic Senate 2016-2018

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

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