Starting a new job is never an easy task, and Linda Katehi might be more aware of this more than most people.
In the midst of severe budget cuts, and some campus contention as a result of them, Katehi officially took on the role of Chancellor of UC Davis in May 2009. After recapping her first year on the job, however, Katehi seems to only express optimism about what she has seen so far.
“I came because of what UC Davis has accomplished as an institution, and the quality by which the university is doing a lot of things,” Katehi said. “Everything I thought to expect was far greater than I thought it would be.”
Katehi has been especially impressed by the progress UC Davis has made in the areas of sustainability, health, climate change and energy.
“We cover such a broad intellectual spectrum,” Katehi said. “That broad spectrum of disciplines gives us a tremendous foundation to build on.”
As former provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, another land-grant university, Katehi is a strong advocate of public education. Her expectations for UC Davis are high, and have been laid out in a plan titled the Vision of Excellence. This proposal will provide the framework to guide campus strategies the next five to 10 years.
So what is the main goal of her plan?
“My vision is to move UC Davis to become one of the top five public research universities,” Katehi said.
While this mission is no small feat, Katehi believes UC Davis has the right resources and attitude to achieve it.
“Our faculty is responding very positively to establishing bold initiatives,” Katehi said. “The campus is responding to these bold ideas and those outside of the university, too. And if this continues, I believe we can really promote ourselves publicly.”
Katehi believes the faculty has been a critical factor in UC Davis’ success throughout the years.
“The one thing that really drives excellence is the ability to bring excellent faculty,” Katehi said. “Without them, there is no chance to be an excellent university.”
The bold initiatives Katehi mentioned can be found in the UC Davis Annual Plan. The composting program employed by the dining commons and the Aggie Ware reusable dishes system are just some of the current campus projects underway that advocate sustainability.
In an effort to maximize the strengths of every UC Davis department and program, two blue ribbon committees have also been formed to conduct reviews. One committee focuses on research while the other is responsible for assessing the processes of technology transfer and commercialization within UC Davis.
According to Katehi, these committees will look at academic programs and assess their strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, these reviews will determine how to support and improve these programs.
“In a good environment where we strive for excellence, we make assessments regularly,” Katehi said. “We are trying to make sure our campus as an organization supports individual and collective excellence.”
Katehi said many people hear the word “review” and associate it with a negative connotation. The chancellor wants the word instead to pose the question, “have we been successful?” The Vision of Excellence and the blue ribbon committees are meant to emphasize this idea of constantly evaluating and improving the university.
Instead of focusing on one particular discipline, Katehi wants to take a more holistic route. The reviews will help to assess and improve a variety of academic departments.
“‘Improve’ does not mean we are not doing well; it means we are aspiring for more,” Katehi said.
While she emphasizes her optimism about her plans and the university’s future, she does recognize the challenges the budget cuts have posed.
“I never anticipated that we would have to cut the equivalent of 25 percent of our stake,” Katehi said. “This past year I had to make some very difficult decisions that made constituents unhappy. I did not come here to cut things.”
She remains hopeful for the next school year and does not foresee any more major changes as a result of the budget.
“Everything we see coming from the legislators all look good for the institution,” Katehi said. “They all propose an increase in our budget.”
When the chancellor is not busy brainstorming goals for UC Davis and dealing with a constricted budget, she enjoys leaving Mrak Hall to observe campus.
Katehi attends Mondavi Center performances with her husband, Spyros Tseregounis, and even works out at the Activities and Recreation Center when she has the time.
“My favorite part [of the job] is going out of the office and learning about campus and faculty,” Katehi said. “I enjoy meeting and talking with new people.”
Looking ahead to the next school year, Katehi has a few tasks in mind. Insuring that students have the right services, establishing new fundraising goals and economic development are just a few items on the agenda. Overall, Katehi wants to simply continue to improve the quality of UC Davis.
“We are looking forward to assessing our undergraduate programs and assessing the quality,” Katehi said. “Excellence is not a destination, it’s a journey.”
AMANDA HARDWICK can be reached at email@example.com.