During the brief Occupy Wall Street etc campaign last year, the pepper spraying of unarmed protesters on the University of California - Davis campus became a symbol for some of what the powers that be thought of those who challenge the political economic status quo. We discussed this incident (here and here) on Health Care Renewal as an example of how the privileged hired leaders of big organizations, including health care organizations, may put their own interests ahead of the organizations' missions. Note that this case is relevant to Health Care Renewal since UC- Davis has a medical school and academic medical center.
The Task Force Report
Now, five months later, an internal investigation of the case has been made public, and it seems to support our concerns about the leadership of large organizations. The AP described the resulting report (via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer). In summary,
a UC Davis task force said the decision to douse seated Occupy protesters with the eye-stinging chemical was 'objectively unreasonable' and not authorized by campus policy.
'The pepper-spraying incident that took place on Nov. 18, 2011, should and could have been prevented,' concluded the task force created to investigate the confrontation.
The report concluded that the Chancellor (functionally, the CEO) of UC-Davis, Linda Katehi had substantial responsibility for the incident:
The task force blamed the the incident on poor planning, communication and decision-making at all levels of the school administration, from Katehi to Police Chief Annette Spicuzza to Lt. John Pike, the main officer seen in the online videos.
The task force blamed the chancellor for not clearly communicating to her subordinates that police should avoid physical force on the protesters. It also said she was responsible for the decision to deploy police on a Friday afternoon, rather than wait until early morning as Spicuzza recommended.
An editorial in the Merced Sun-Star focused more vividly on Katehi's poor leadership.
The independent assessment of events leading up to the infamous Nov. 18 pepper-spraying incident at the University of California at Davis provides a devastating indictment of the leadership of Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi and key vice chancellors -- and of the operations of the campus Police Department.
Katehi showed either extreme naivete or incompetence in weighing a response to protesters camping in the Quad. The report of the task force, led by former California Supreme Court Associate Justice Cruz Reynoso, revealed a deeply flawed structure for decision-making. Little or no consideration of alternatives. Failing to record and adequately communicate key decisions, so that ambiguity and uncertainty ruled.
The command and leadership structure of the campus Police Department, the report concluded, is 'very dysfunctional.' Lieutenants, the report stated, don't 'follow directives of the Chief.' This department needs a top-to-bottom review to bring it into line with best practices in policing for a university campus.
Campus leaders had been dealing with protests since 2009 and were well aware of events that November in Oakland and at UC Berkeley.
But instead of deliberate preparations, those events, according to the report, sparked alarmist fears among Katehi and other administrators that if any encampment was not removed immediately, older non-students might assault young female students.
Katehi said she was worried about 'the use of drugs and sex and other things, and you know here we have very young students ... we were worried especially about having very young girls and other students with older people who come from the outside without any knowledge of their record ... .'
But the report suggests Katehi and her leadership team did little or nothing to verify whether these fears were well-founded, ignoring evidence from student affairs staff that protesters were students and faculty. The report concludes that Katehi's fears were 'not supported by any evidence' obtained by the Kroll Inc. investigators.
Worse, even if the concerns were real, Katehi and her leadership team did not consider alternatives to immediate removal of the encampment -- or learn anything from the experience of other places. This rush to action resulted in ad hoc decision-making, apparently with no one having a clear understanding of what was supposed to happen.
Katehi did make one thing clear: She wanted the tents removed at 3 p.m. -- though it was never certain what legal authority police had to remove tents during the day in order to implement a policy against overnight camping. Subordinates, the report says, took her statement as an executive order and tactical decision.
The report also notes that Katehi 'failed to express in any meaningful way her expectation' that campus police would use no force. There is no indication what Katehi thought police should do if protesters refused a request to take down tents.
Furthermore, an article in the Atlantic suggested that Katehi was not truthful in her dealing with the investigation:
at face value ... [the report's] findings are also very damaging to the still-serving Chancellor of UC Davis, Linda Katehi. For instance, the Kroll report says about a letter asking the demonstrators to disperse:Chancellor Katehi told Kroll investigators that Student Affairs wrote the letter and that she did not review it before it went out. The record contradicts both of these statements, as detailed below. Katehi did review the letter, provided an editorial change and approved it. Student Affairs did not write the letter...
Will Leadership be Held Accountable?
So, in summary, the report on the pepper-spraying incident portrays the Chancellor of UC-Davis as presiding over a dysfunctional police department, hastily responding to rumors rather than evidence, making decisions without considering alternatives, poorly communicating decisions and their rationale, and not always being honest. This is not the portrait of a capable leader. This a a portrait of someone totally out of her depth.
So why is she paid the big bucks? As we have discussed endlessly, the top hired leaders of big health care (and other related) organizations seem to be almost universally lauded by their boards of trustees, not to mention fawning public relations departments, as brilliant. That brilliance is used as a rationale for the leaders' compensation and benefits, and for deflecting their accountability.
Yet often on close examination top hired leaders prove to be bumblers at best. Again and again their leadership has been shown to subvert the mission of their own organizations. Yet the structure that has been erected to protect them, to put them into a "CEO bubble," keeps them unaccountable.
Even after this report, will Chancellor Katehi be held accountable? Once again, I am not holding my breath. The strength of her protective bubble was demonstrated in an article in the Sacramento Bee,
Cruz Reynoso, the former state Supreme Court justice whose task force blamed 'systemic and repeated failures' of UC Davis' leadership for the pepper-spraying of students last fall, said Thursday that Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi should stay on the job and enact reforms to prevent a recurrence.
'She should not resign. The balance is that she has done a lot of good despite this drastic poor judgment,' Reynoso said, a day after releasing an investigative report that faulted the chancellor for failing to make clear to campus police she wanted no force used in dispersing protesters and taking down an Occupy encampment on Nov. 18.
Reynoso said he was impressed by the chancellor's response: a written statement Wednesday vowing to protect students' 'safety and free speech' as the university learns 'from the difficult events.'
What an example of cognitive dissonance this was. "Systematic and repeated failures," and "drastic poor judgment," which resulted in injuries to students and clear violation of the university mission is not reason enough to fire a CEO (as long as she writes a contrite letter promising to uphold the mission in the future)? There is no way to understand this other than as a manifestation of belief in the "divine right of CEOs" (look here and here).
So my response is that we will not solve the problem of health care dysfunction, and our society's larger political economic problems until we resolve to hold our leaders accountable for the missions they are supposed to uphold.