UC Davis Can’t Catch a Break

Last month the Los Angeles Times announced the payday for the 21 University of California Davis students who were attacked by pepper-spray wielding campus cops last November 18. If you recall, the highly seasoned pupils were the remnants of a band of Occupiers who gummed up the campus fighting for their demands:

1. Free public higher education. We have endorsed the College for California initiative as a way of achieving this.

2. Significant reform of police presence on campus.

3. Immediate resignation of Linda Katehi. Democratization of the office of the chancellor, beginning with the creation of a recall mechanism.

As is usually the case, the “demands” were a mix of ignorant fantasy (c.f. demand #1, the oxymoronic “free public higher education”), knee-jerk anarchism (demand #2), and disingenuous ideas about organizational dynamics (demand #3, “democratize the Chancellor’s Office”). And, as is also usually the case, the Occupier at UC Davis wanted the head of Chancellor Linda Kahtehi.


Poor Linda Kahtehi, Chancellor since 2009 of the University of California at Davis, has watched from the helm as her campus has been buffeted by one scandal after another. That the campus endured the galling exercise of buying-off the Occupiers was but the most recent in a very long string of disasters over which Kahtehi has presided during her short tenure. Until today, that is: when a new scandal rocked the campus:

three baby mice were found sealed alive in a plastic baggie and left unattended on the counter of [Professor of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine Ebenezer] Yamoah’s lab at the Center for Neuroscience in Davis.

UC Davis students gather in solemn protest outside Professor Yamoah’s laboratory. No word on whether the three deceased rodents were vision-impaired.

Such brutish treatment of vermin has Professor Yamoah in big, big trouble, and has brought the wrath of not one but two UC Davis bigwigs–Provost Ralph J. Hexter and Harris Lewin, the vice chancellor of research–down on his laboratory. Indeed, the big cheeses have not only shut down Yamoah’s Mus musculus charnel house, but have hit the researcher where it really hurts: his pocketbook:

In addition to the alleged animal care violations, university officials notified Yamoah late last month they had discovered “other concerns relating to your management of grants.” As a result, Hexter and Lewin wrote, the university “has begun a comprehensive review of your current grants, which shall include a review of your reporting, financial management, and effort reporting, among other items.”

UC administrators prepare to divvy up the spoils of Professor Y’s grant funds.

Hell hath no fury like a rodent scorned.

Would that a bunch of 99 percenters who litigated their way in to a 1 percenter’s payday and some dead mice be all Chancellor Kahtehi has to worry about. Unfortunately for her, the list is much, much longer.

For example, compared to Professor Yamoah’s alleged mistreatment of lower mammals, two of UC Davis’s best and brightest–these mad scientists are literally brain surgeons–have disgraced their institution by deliberately infecting patients in their care with bacterial brain infections:

Documents show the surgeons got the consent of three terminally ill patients with malignant brain tumors to introduce bacteria into their open head wounds, under the theory that postoperative infections might prolong their lives. Two of the patients developed sepsis and died, the university later determined.

So did the third.

The Sacramento Bee continues its excellent coverage of this horrific abuse of doctor-patient relations:

Dr. J. Paul Muizelaar, who earns more than $800,000 a year as chairman of the department of neurological surgery, was ordered last fall to “immediately cease and desist” from any research involving human subjects, according to documents obtained by The Bee.
Also banned was the colleague, Dr. Rudolph J. Schrot, an assistant professor and neurosurgeon who has worked under Muizelaar the past 13 years.

Welcome to my laboratory. Care for some bacteria?

You’ll be glad to learn that Professor Muizelaar at least is in no danger of losing his job. In fact:

Despite the disciplinary action imposed last fall, Muizelaar was honored this spring with an additional academic role at UC Davis. He was named the first holder of the Julian R. Youmans endowed chair in the department of neurological surgery, according to an April 19 news release from the UCD School of Medicine.

I highly recommend the full story from which these excerpts are drawn. It gives a detailed account of the standards by which universities must abide when conducting research on humans (and animals as well), and how charges of scientific misconduct are investigated. Such charges are not taken lightly by faculty or administrators in serious institutions, and it is clear that UC Davis was thorough, meticulous, and transparent in its post-mortem investigation of Muizelaar and Schrot. Only the timing was off.

Poor Chancellor Kahtehi. But, wait! There’s more!

Late this summer the dean and the executive associate dean of UC Davis’s Agricultural College resigned suddenly and without warning:

Dean Neal Van Alfen and Executive Associate Dean Jim D. MacDonald announced their resignations in letters…to Chancellor Linda Katehi and Provost Ralph Hexter.

Van Alfen, whose term as dean would have ended in two years, said the reason for his abrupt departure is the chancellor’s decision to begin her search for his replacement a year earlier than expected.

Dean Van Alfen resigns in a hurry.

According to Van Alfen, waiting until the one-year mark to begin a search is standard practice for a university.

“The chancellor informed me she was going to start the search for my replacement this September and I still had two years left of my term,” Van Alfen said Thursday. “I just felt that if she wanted a new dean, I really needed to step down.”

This juicy tale comes to us from The Davis Enterprise. The Sacramento Bee elaborates:

Under Van Alfen’s watch, the college developed centers that include the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and the Agricultural Sustainability Institute, along with the university’s centers for produce safety and regional change.
Another of the college’s goals was to help foster a “Silicon Valley for food,” attracting food firms, science and technology to the Davis area centered on the university’s research.

When such senior faculty-administrators quit the dean’s office to return to the faculty in high dudgeon, you can bet, well, since it’s UC Davis we’re talking about here, you can bet the farm that the pheromones of faculty ill-will have been released on campus, and it is only a matter of time before the Chancellor faces another (yes, another) vote of no-confidence. She faced her first, and vanquished it handily, earlier this year, when some members of the faculty called for the vote in the wake of the pepper-spray incident.

Poor Chancellor Kahtehi. On top of all her other worries, she must also time to time undertake the unenviable task of addressing anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism on campus is hardly limited to the Davis campus, and is apparently so virulent on UC campuses across the state that university President Mark Yudof issued an open letter in March of this year, when anti-Semitic fervor threatened to shut down a presentation by Israeli soldiers on–you guessed it–the Davis campus.

Those of you who have not recently attended a public lecture on a college campus may be unfamiliar with just how perilous it can be–if you happen to support Israel. Without re-hashing tired arguments about the lack of diversity of opinion, free-speech-for-me-but-not-for-thee campus “radicals,” and conflation of real threats to society and the perceived insult of, say, an inconveniently labeled restroom endemic on most US campuses, let’s just says that the popular kids do not welcome Jews into their clubhouse. Some of those kids–the odious “Students for Justice in Palestine”–will do everything in order to “make their voices heard,” from heckling to sending out deceitful press releases to attending meetings in the president’s office having not washed for many weeks. Please believe me when I say you do not want to be downwind of an SJP rally.

Back to UC Davis:

Last spring On Feb. 27 at a presentation at Wellman 106, I witnessed behavior that has no place at UC Davis. A presentation, “Defending the Israeli Image,” sponsored by Chai-Life Club at UC Davis, Chabad of Davis and StandWithUs and led by two Israelis was repeatedly interrupted by hecklers and individuals whose intent was clearly to disrupt the proceedings.

One individual planted himself at the back of the room and continuously shouted slurs (“rapists, murderers”) and refused to allow the event to proceed. Although most of the individuals who could be described as opposed to the ideas presented confined their behavior to occasional hooting and jeers, six to eight individuals felt empowered to prevent any collegial exchange of ideas. Under the circumstances, the Israelis, a former member of the Israeli Defense Forces and a Druze woman showed grace and courage.

Disgracefully, campus security and the UC Davis Police did nothing to prevent this behavior. I was told that they were following orders to do nothing unless there was violence. They also refused to take the names of the disruptive individuals. Clearly this sets a chilling precedent for future campus public events where one individual could disrupt the event without any fear of consequences.

So wrote David Siegal, M.D., MPH and Professor Of Medicine, UC Davis School Of Medicine, in the California Aggie, Davis’s campus newspaper. So far as I am aware, Dr. Siegal has not attempted to infect any of his patients with bacteria. He has, however, suffered predictable consequences for his having had the temerity to call out such thuggish behavior.

Dr. Seigal writes to the Aggie again on April 5:

In a Feb. 28, 2012 discussion on the official Facebook page of the UC Davis chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), members directed anti-Semitic slurs at me.

One member referred to me as “shitstein.” Clearly the use of “stein,” since it has nothing to do with my name, is a direct reference to Jews. This epithet, which was “liked” by several members, followed an exchange where members discussed efforts to identify me and then ridiculed my name. One member commented, “his last name is Siegel. WHO WOULDA THOUGHT.” To which someone responded, “what kinda last names did you think i (sic) was looking for lol.” Another went on to comment that “they,” in apparent reference to Jews, “all look WAY too similar.” One person referred to me as an enemy, “spewing his crap.”

I consider this threatening behavior. Since SJP members appeared to have a number of questions about my identity and academic rank, on March 20, I sent an e-mail offering to meet with SJP. So far, they have not replied.

Dr. Seigal is not talking about this nutty SJP.

The Facebook discussion followed a Feb. 27 presentation at UC Davis by two young Israelis meant to convey some of the realities of living in Israel….Unfortunately, these kinds of anti-Semitic slurs are all too common on college and university campuses and, clearly, UC Davis is no exception. What appears to be challenging is to motivate UC Davis administrators to take strong action and do what they are supposed to do (maintain academic integrity) in the spirit of President Yudof’s comments.

I wrote an e-mail to UC Davis Provost Ralph J. Hexter, asking the university to take action against SJP for their hate speech directed at me, which I believe has no place on the official Facebook site of a UC Davis-sanctioned student organization. Provost Hexter referred my complaint to Courtney M. Robinson, Asst. Director for Policy and Conduct at UC Davis. She e-mailed me in response.

“(I) have thoroughly reviewed it in the context of the UC Standards of Conduct for Students. While the comments posted on the Facebook page are understandably offensive, the actions of the students that posted them do not violate any of the standards. Additionally, such speech is protected under the First Amendment, and although the comments are not consistent with the campus’ Principles of Community, those principles do not constitute a policy,” she wrote.

I am deeply troubled by these findings. If they do not violate UC Standards of Conduct for Students, then there is a serious problem. UC Davis administrators should not shrink from their responsibilities. When faculty are the target of racist and threatening behavior from students, university administrators should not hide behind misguided notions of “First Amendment” rights. If analogous comments had been made about any other minority or LGBT individuals, Ms. Robinson’s findings certainly would have been different. It appears that Ms. Robinson and the UC Davis administration do not take hate speech and threats seriously when directed against Jews. An intolerable precedent has been set.

I hope the good doctor doesn’t hold his breath waiting for members of the administration to call out SJP–or other fundamentally anti-Semitic groups–for what they are. Ain’t gonna happen. Instead, those same administrators will jig around in their offices like victims of St. Vitus dance, ululating about the rock and the hard place they think they are between. If they are lucky enough to have a mouthpiece on the payroll, then they’ll simply shove the whole mess onto counsel’s desk, take two aspirin, and think happy thoughts about their next sabbatical.

With all my heart I wish Linda Kahtehi godspeed. I hope that she has surrounded herself with good people, but  I fear for her. Sometime after her inauguration a Jonah arrived on the Davis campus. There lurks, I am certain, a recent hire who has brought terrible bad luck her way. There can be no other explanation.

2 thoughts on “UC Davis Can’t Catch a Break

  1. You know SJP sounds oddly similar to all those alphabet titled organizations that early 20th century Germans used to be so fond of.

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