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Davis, California

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Gary May should donate income from board positions


Promising to donate money to programs benefiting students would show dedication of new chancellor

This editorial board wrote in February that Gary May, the incoming UC Davis chancellor, was a “promising pick” for the chancellor position. Since the editorial was written, however, the Sacramento Bee reported that May is set to earn $325,780 from serving on two corporate boards, both of which are in the defense and technology industry. May received $288,280 in 2015 from the Virginia-based defense and technology company Leidos and $37,500 from the defense, technology and medicine lab Charles Stark Draper Laboratory.

While holding external board positions is neither inherently problematic nor by any means illegal, the optics are pretty lousy: Linda Katehi, who served as UC Davis’ chancellor from 2009 to her resignation last summer, served on various corporate boards, and these moonlighting activities prompted widespread and fierce condemnation, which likely contributed to her ousting as chancellor. If May wants to avoid the same mistakes of Katehi, he can start by promising to forfeit any income he receives from corporate boards.

The circumstances surrounding Katehi’s paid board positions were significantly different than May’s. She faced just criticism for serving on the board of John Wiley & Sons, a textbook publisher, which undeniably screamed conflict of interest. How could someone who profited from textbook sales claim to represent and serve students who constantly struggle to pay for exhorbitantly expensive textbooks?

Regardless, the fact that May will also make a substantial income from serving on these external boards, in addition to his $495,000 salary (85 percent of which is taxpayer-funded) is troubling. Now, it could be that all of the candidates for the UC Davis chancellor position held seats on corporate boards, but a pragmatist would assume that UC Davis students would not respond positively to their chancellor moonlighting on paid board positions, given the salience of the issue.

This student response was evident last week, when a group of students protested May’s appearance on campus, chanting “No war profiteers are welcome here,” and shouting over his public meeting with students.

May has indicated that he will not give up his two board positions. According to a University of California spokesperson, “[The boards] are not conflicts. For example, the Leidos board activity has resulted in millions of dollars in philanthropic gifts for Georgia Tech, and the company also hires Georgia Tech students.”

If May’s board positions can help employ UC Davis graduates and bring in significant revenue to the university, the Editorial Board can accept his activities. This would indicate a willingness to be transparent and would show that he is fully committed to UC Davis as opposed to private interests. We do call, however, for May to donate his income from his board positions to services and programs that benefit UC Davis students.

Katehi attempted to remedy her situation last year by announcing that she would donate her textbook stock to student scholarships. But that was too little, too late. May has the unique opportunity to show from the outset that he knows that serving as the leader of UC Davis is his full-time job.

The Editorial Board still believes that Gary May is a promising pick for chancellor at UC Davis. But donating income from his board positions would be a show of good faith and an indication that May understands the concerns of his new student body.


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