On her first day of school, Linda Katehi arrived in Washington D.C. to meet Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Katehi, who began her term as chancellor last Monday, has set the stage for a new era at UC Davis. Her meeting with Clinton and the Department of Education is just one part of her vision to bring UC Davis to the top ranks among public institutions.
“It’s something we need to do more of,” Katehi said of her meeting with education leaders from around the country. “I hope that we can have more of our faculty and students go to Washington and be more central to what happens nationally.”
At the conference, Katehi discussed the role that study abroad programs play in making both students and the U.S. government a global presence. Secretary Clinton arranged the discussion to assist universities in providing the best possible opportunities abroad. The discussion sought to coordinate foreign policy with the missions of universities, as well as spark conversation on the benefits of education in foreign countries.
“It was a very interesting discussion and I think [our partnerships abroad] will become a major strategy for our campus,” said Katehi, who attested to the benefits not only of Davis students studying abroad, but also the university’s ability to attract foreign scholars.
While in D.C., Katehi also met with officials in the Department of Energy to discuss the possibility of UC Davis as the home of a DOE energy innovation hub.
The discussions began what Katehi hopes will be standard in UC Davis life. Recently ranked number 11 among public universities by U.S. News and World Report, UC Davis has the ability to rise further in those rankings, but only through creative measures and investments, Katehi said.
“In order to be in the top ten, that means we have to displace someone, and of course that university is not just sitting out there waiting to be displaced by anyone else, let me tell you,” Katehi said. “We really have to think totally different from everybody else, something that nobody else will anticipate.”
One way Katehi hopes to lead the university to the top 10, and possibly the top five, is to make small investments, even in a difficult financial environment.
“Yes, we don’t have a lot of money to make major investments but we should be able to make small, critical investments that will allow us to move forward, and to not lose our people, our students or our programs,” she said.
Her first business day marked the start of what she has called her hundred-day listening tour, in which she will spend the majority of her time listening to staff, students, faculty and lawmakers on the needs of the university. After, she will meet with university officials to develop a campus “vision” that she hopes will guide policy for up to 20 years.
Katehi has arranged for students to play an active role in the decisions she and administrators will be making in the coming months. She will meet with four student advisors to the chancellor – two undergraduates and two graduates – as well as with members of ASUCD once a month for an hour.
“She genuinely wants to know what’s on students’ minds,” said Joe Chatham, ASUCD president and senior international relations major. Chatham also met with Katehi last week along with Vice President Chris Dietrich and student advisors to the chancellors.
“She’s a decision-maker and I think she’s really going to put energy into this campus. She’s such a prominent national figure, which is going to make UC Davis a very recognizable institution,” Chatham said.
Katehi also addressed the actions of her former colleagues at the University of Illinois, acknowledging a long history of corruption which she regretted being affiliated with.
“The decisions of the trustees were not fair, and that’s what happens when you don’t have transparency – you lose integrity and you lose fairness,” she said. “I am so pleased that this institution has a very robust process in place so it can deal with admissions in a way that is fair to the students and fair to the university.”
Katehi’s predecessor, Chancellor-emeritus Larry Vanderhoef, also urged those still critical of the admissions scandal to try to look past the issue, and forward to the changes she will make on campus.
Vanderhoef, who will take a year-long sabbatical and return to Davis to teach a science class for non-science majors, expressed his utmost confidence in Katehi for the decisions he felt both challenged and privileged to have taken on as chancellor.
“She’s going to have some hard decisions to make,” he said, in reference mainly to the budget crisis. “But there are certain things that can’t be accomplished when times are good, units that should be shut down. And she’s up to it. This is a very experienced, very wise and very savvy woman. She’ll make this happen.”
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.