A long-time college administrator, Hexter has weathered scandal throughout his career
UC Davis Provost Ralph J. Hexter announced his departure from campus leadership, effective at the end of the 2019-20 school year, on Sept. 17.
Though Hexter will be leaving the UC Davis administration, he will remain on this campus as a faculty member. He plans to refocus himself on his teaching and research in classics and comparative literature.
Upon his departure from campus leadership, the provost will have served UC Davis for 9.5 years. During his tenure as provost, he spent a 15-month stint as acting and then interim chancellor during the UC’s investigation into former Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi. He became interim chancellor following her resignation. Hexter returned to his role as provost after Gary S. May’s appointment as chancellor.
This time spent serving as acting and interim chancellor is a historical marker of Hexter’s time at UC Davis.
“I think Linda Katehi is a fantastic leader,” Hexter said at the time he was appointed to fill Katehi’s role on an acting basis. “I understood why [Napolitano] feels this is the decision she has to make. In my discussions with the chancellor, I think the chancellor expects only an investigation will clear her name.”
In retrospect, the investigation did not clear Katehi’s name from all of the many allegations levied against her during the Fire Katehi movement.
“The investigation is now concluded, and it found numerous instances where Chancellor Katehi was not candid, either with me, the press, or the public, that she exercised poor judgment, and violated multiple University policies,” UC President Janet Napolitano said in an email sent to the UC Davis community at the time. “In these circumstances, Chancellor Katehi has now offered to resign, and I have accepted that resignation.”
Before coming to UC Davis, Hexter had his own storied past as a college executive. Hexter served as the President of Hampshire College from 2005 to 2010, ending in a large movement toward his ouster from that institution. After his appointment as acting chancellor in 2016 during the Katehi scandal, The California Aggie reported on Hexter’s own administrative woes.
Similar to the Fire Katehi scandal, during which students occupied the fifth floor of Mrak Hall and the location of the chancellor’s office, Hexter’s office at Hampshire College was occupied by 100 some-odd students at the end of his time there.
“[Hampshire] College was on the brink of even existing under his management,” said Ben Saucier, an alumnus from Hampshire College’s class of 2011 featured in The Aggie’s 2016 article on Hexter’s past controversies. “He had a big house outside of campus that he was keeping horses on; he was a socialite — he had parties and he would schmooze up fundraising money, and people kind of felt like he was being [disingenuous] with the student body, like he was saying one thing to them and doing another thing behind closed doors.”
The controversies that Hexter faced at Hampshire College were diverse, Saucier said at the time: Hampshire’s Students for Justice in Palestine challenged his noncommittal stance on the college’s divestment from Israel; Hexter’s on-campus paramilitary group of law enforcers, present for “public safety,” caused student dissent; and his inability to answer questions regarding the whereabouts of certain funds, specifically with regard to Hampshire’s massive budget deficit and plans to relocate several admissions offices all sparked controversy.
In 2016, Hexter explained that he was already planning an “appropriate exit” from Hampshire College, even though his contract had been renewed.
“It is true that on the Internet you will find a lot of dissent and protest,” Hexter said at the time. “But frankly, from my perspective, that was more of a symptom of a realizing on everyone’s part that this wasn’t the perfect match.”
Despite the many periods of controversy that Hexter has weathered, he is receiving praise from many in the campus community as he prepares his exit from campus leadership.
“I want to thank Ralph for his service to the University of California and his dedication to our mission of teaching, research and public service,” May said in the UC Davis News and Media Relations announcement on Hexter’s exit. “Ralph is an extraordinary leader — professorial yet approachable, traditional yet forward-looking, focused on the institution yet global in his thinking. He demonstrates wisdom and compassion on a regular basis, and always has sage advice.”
Hexter’s impact on UC Davis is broad and measurable. All but one of the deans and vice provosts currently at the university were recruited by him, the new associate vice chancellor for enrollment management and, while acting chancellor, the director of athletics, according to UC Davis News and Media Relations.
He has presided over a number of important campus events in the past few years, “including the [openings] of the Ann E. Pitzer Center for music instruction and recitals, the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, the International Center and the Betty Irene Moore Hall of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis Health,” according to UC Davis News and Media Relations.
Hexter plans to stay in his role until a successor can be found, and a national search for his successor is soon to be underway.
Apart from serving at Hampshire College and UC Davis, Hexter spent many years at UC Berkeley as chair of the comparative literature department, dean of the Division of Arts and Humanities and executive dean of the College of Letters and Science.
Written by: Kenton Goldsby — firstname.lastname@example.org