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UC-Davis Chancellor Is Placed on Leave

[Last updated (4/28/2016, 9:40 a.m.) with a statement from the office of president of the University of California system.]

The chancellor of the University of California at Davis, Linda P.B. Katehi, was placed on administrative leave on Wednesday night, pending an investigation of information that “raises serious questions” about whether she may have violated university policies, according to a statement from the office of the president of the University of California system.

The system’s president, Janet Napolitano, said in the statement that she would appoint an independent, outside investigator to compile a report before the start of the next academic year and that the provost at Davis, Ralph J. Hexter, would fill the chancellor’s post on an acting basis. “I am deeply disappointed to take this action,” Ms. Napolitano said.

The concerns regarding Ms. Katehi, the statement said, include “questions about the campus’s employment and compensation of some of the chancellor’s immediate family members, the veracity of the chancellor’s accounts of her involvement in contracts related to managing both the campus’s and her personal reputation on social media, and the potential improper use of student fees.”

The system’s statement capped two days in which rumors had swirled among faculty members at Davis that Ms. Napolitano had asked the chancellor to resign. Ms. Katehi, who has come under increasing criticism from students and some state lawmakers over the past two months, said just last week that she had no plans to step down.

Even as late as Wednesday afternoon, a system official told The Chronicle by email that Ms. Katehi was still the chancellor at Davis. That official, Dianne Klein, director of media engagement and strategy, did not respond, however, to a question asking whether Ms. Napolitano had asked Ms. Katehi to resign.

And on Wednesday morning, Ms. Katehi herself assured deans at Davis in an email that she was “100 percent committed” to remaining as chancellor. “I sincerely appreciate the strong outpouring of support I continue to receive from the campus community, and I very much look forward to continuing to lead the campus to greater levels of success and excellence in the future,” she wrote.

Pepper Spray and Spending

Ms. Katehi — who became chancellor in 2009 and also holds faculty appointments in electrical and computer engineering and in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies — has weathered several controversies during her tenure as chancellor. Most recently, she came under fire two weeks ago, when The Sacramento Bee revealed that the Davis campus had paid consultants at least $175,000 to minimize Internet postings about an incident in 2011, caught in widely seen videos and photographs, in which a campus police officer pepper-sprayed peaceful student protesters. (Although the university was heavily criticized for hiring consultants to help it look good when Googled, such strategies — called search-engine optimization — are common in higher education.)

In March, Ms. Katehi stepped down from her seat on the for-profit DeVry Education Group’s Board of Directors after she faced a backlash for working with the company, which has been under federal scrutiny.

Amid the recent controversies, students have held protests on the Davis campus demanding Ms. Katehi’s resignation. Many academics, however, have kept faith in their chancellor. Faculty members circulated a petition this week expressing support for Ms. Katehi and condemning any “peremptory action” against her by Ms. Napolitano without consulting the campus’s Academic Senate. More than 300 people had signed the petition as of Wednesday.

Despite the rumors, though, the university system remained silent through most of the day Wednesday. The Academic Senate’s chair, André Knoesen, said on Wednesday afternoon that he had not been contacted by Ms. Napolitano about Ms. Katehi’s employment.

Ms. Katehi herself remained out of sight on Wednesday, the Bee reported, and canceled two appearances that had been scheduled as part of a public-relations effort she began last week to repair the damage from the recent controversies.

The system finally released its statement Wednesday night.

According to the Sacramento newspaper, Ms. Napolitano informed Ms. Katehi in a two-page letter that she would be placed on leave for at least 90 days as an investigation was conducted. One area of that investigation will be the employment of the chancellor’s daughter-in-law and salary increases for her that have raised her pay by $50,000 over two and a half years.

Ms. Napolitano also wrote that she had concerns about whether Ms. Katehi had made “material misstatements” about her role in the campus’s spending to scrub the Internet of negative stories about the university — and the chancellor herself — after the 2011 pepper-spray incident.

Ms. Katehi has said publicly she knew nothing about the efforts or the contract language, but Ms. Napolitano reportedly wrote that the chancellor’s statements to the news media and to the president’s office were contradicted by evidence that suggests Ms. Katehi had “multiple interactions” with vendors involved in those efforts.

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