The Week in Ethics: UC Davis Leaders Fail to Give Voice to Values

Update: August 9, 2016, Chancellor Katehi resigns today after the release of the investigation report. The report findings included issues with her judgment, candor with university leaders and violations of university policies.

Update: April 28, 2016, Chancellor Katehi suspended for 90 days pending an investigation into whether she used public money to fund a social media campaign to reduce the prominence of the 2011 Pepper Spraying in search engines, nepotism in jobs for her son and daughter-in-law, and conflict of interest in taking a board seat. 

Update: July 15, 2013, Progress at UC Davis in transparency, collaboration and re-building trust with students through initiatives by new chief of campus security.

Update: September 26, 2012, Pending federal court approval, The University of California Davis (UCD) will pay a settlement of about $ 1 million to cover compensation to 21 students and alumni pepper sprayed by campus police, and other individuals arrested or pepper sprayed; $250,000 will go to plaintiffs’ attorneys. Under the settlement, UCD Chancellor Linda Katehi will write a formal apology to each student or alumnus arrested or pepper sprayed.

Update: May 5, 2012, A University of California draft report released May 4, 2012 on campus civil disobedience — spurred by the UC D pepper spraying at a peaceful demonstration — recommends that UC police be appropriately trained, but not involved in peaceful demonstrations; instead administrators should use mediation in resolving peaceful protests. In “potentially volatile” situations, where police are involved, pepper spray should be a last resort.

A failure of leadership at University of California Davis (UCD) was a key finding in The Reynoso Task Force Report (released April 11, 2012) on the November 2011 pepper spraying of peaceful student protesters. Campus meetings about the report continue this week. The report focuses on the failure of leadership by the chancellor, her leadership team, and the campus police chief and her department.

As a result of what happened and how it happened, there was also a failure of leaders to give voice to the values that we expect to be most alive on college campuses — respect, transparency, integrity, free speech, freedom of assembly, civil disobedience, debate as well as expressing dissent so better decisions are possible, and ironically safety — the value that drove the decisions made.

Typical of most crises, the report found that “the pepper spraying incident that took place on November 18, 2o11 should have and could have been prevented.” The report was chaired by UCD Law Professor Emeritus and retired State Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso.

The findings of the Task Force (which incorporated the investigation of a risk management firm) looked at the processes that broke down. Other investigations are  underway. However, a huge opportunity will be missed if this focus on what went wrong only deals with the infrastructure of identifying the policies, procedures, and communication expected in dealing effectively with a student protest or any crisis.

In addition to not having those fundamentals, making remedial action necessary, UCD leaders also lacked skill in addressing the conflicting values that emerged. In campus and national interviews, Chancellor Linda Katehi explained safety had been the dominant concern.

However, the fear about safety was driven by inaccurate and unverified information. Inattention to detail regarding safety’s execution defeated its priority: neither the values espoused by the university system or  UCD’s “Principles of Community” were honored.

Failures of leadership make unlikely resolving values conflicts.

Among the leadership failures the Task Force report cites are: how the ad hoc Leadership Team, headed by Chancellor Katehi, operated; their acting on erroneous information that outside agitators were involved; not exploring alternatives to take down tents; the legal basis for removing the tents; the Chancellor’s lack of clarity on how little or much force the police should use in removing the tents; and her directive on the timing of the eviction.

The Task Force report also faulted Police Chief Annette Spicuzza, on paid administrative leave until her resignation April 18, 2012, for failures in the conduct of the police operation, including her failure to challenge the Leadership Team’s decisions on tent removal timing and push for clarification on the role police were expected to play disbanding protestors. Individual officers were also faulted. including Lt. John Pike (also on paid leave) who used the unauthorized and unapproved MK- 9 spray.

In a campus meeting last week Reynoso said that there were those involved making decisions who later said they hadn’t agreed with decisions; and yet there was no record that they expressed their dissent at the time. Reynoso also said that members of the Leadership Team had different interpretations of decisions.

Reynoso urged in his remarks that the “The principles of Community” be followed on campus. The Principles create a code of conduct including “dignity,” “climate of justice,” “mutual understanding,” “right of freedom of expression,” and “commitment to highest standards of civility and decency.”

The biggest question right now for UCD should be what will it take for the “Principles of Community” to have real impact on campus?

First steps?

It starts with Giving Voice to Values. It starts with respect, with being a community where leaders lead by example, and deal with the complexities of conflicting values in a way that inspires trust, where those who disagree do so openly to drive the best thinking, where options are researched and evaluated, new approaches considered, and different perspectives heard.

It starts with being intentional that each of the values will legitimately describe “the way we do things around here.”

If that is not going to be the case, revise the Principles.

Gael O’Brien       April 19, 2012

The Week in Ethics

Gael O’Brien is also a columnist for Business Ethics Magazine; her March 2012 column is an interview with Gallup Chairman Jim Clifton on building confidence with banks.


2 thoughts on “The Week in Ethics: UC Davis Leaders Fail to Give Voice to Values

  1. mercadeo internet

    DAVIS (CBS13) – The long-awaited task force report on the pepper-spraying incident at the UC Davis campus in November was released Wednesday, and it includes a number of criticisms against police and campus administrators.


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