Former UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi enthusiastically discusses her return to the classroom after years in university administration. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Back in the classroom: Katehi says being faculty is a ‘calling’

By From page A1 | September 17, 2017

 UC Davis professor Linda Katehi walked over to the black, leather-bound books in her office in Academic Surge and motioned to them.

“These are their doctoral thesis,” Katehi said about the many volumes on her shelf. “I was moving them yesterday, (and) was thinking, ‘This is why I joined the university.’ ”

Katehi continued, “Every one of these students has a story.” She said her second student, whose book she was holding, is now a fellow with Raytheon. “And my first student is a senior faculty member at the University of South Florida.”

Katehi opened the cover of one of the books, reading the inscription aloud. “Linda, thanks for all of the help,” she read.

“I told my students that before they would graduate they would call me ‘Professor Katehi.’ The moment they get a Ph.D, they’re a colleague. So they can call me by my first name.”

With some pride, she added, “I’ve graduated 77 students; 48 with Ph.D’s, and the rest were masters students.”

The former chancellor of UC Davis sat down with The Enterprise on Friday to discuss her return to the classroom after years in university administration. She served as UCD’s chancellor from 2009 until her resignation in April 2016. Prior to that, she served as provost at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (2006-09); and dean of the college of engineering at Purdue University (2002-06).

This fall, Katehi will teach a graduate seminar: Electrical and Computer Engineering 290. She has received some negative press for the annual salary she will earn as a professor, $318,000, that accompanies her small teaching load.

Katehi said, “I’m not going to say anything to the critics” about her salary. “But I would like to say that it is … very difficult for the public to understand the complexity of the job of a faculty member.”

This misunderstanding is “unfortunate … People will come and say, ‘How many hours are you in the classroom, and how many office hours do you hold?’” Katehi said. “And then they think, ‘What do you do the rest of the time?’”

She listed off many responsibilities she has as a senior faculty member in a research institution, including learning to teach engineering classes “the way engineering is practiced. And engineering is practiced in teams and not individually.” She no longer wants to stand in front of a board and lecture; instead, she is learning the new software, mobile apps and techniques for more interactive classes.

Katehi also is incorporating all of her content online, she said, “so there is a lot of work that goes into a class. But also we are expected to do (state-of-the-art) research … and to be able to raise funding for your graduate students is an amazing amount of work.”

She continued, “And in addition to that you have all of the service that especially falls on senior faculty.” Katehi said she has been asked to do a review of a department and to chair an executive committee. “And it’s not just me that I’m saying this about … every senior faculty member has the same kind of thing.”

Katehi also has read “more than a thousand papers this past year” to see how research in electrical engineering has progressed. And she has “met with and selected people from all around the U.S.” to make her graduate seminar on “the fourth Industrial Revolution and the democratization of the information infrastructure” relevant and meaningful.

Additionally, she said, “I’m the director of the ADVANCE program … from the NSF (National Science Foundation) to recruit female faculty, and that’s the reason, in fact, last year that UC Davis became No. 1 (for the number of women in STEM), because of that program. We’re writing proposals to extend it, and we will write a book about the work that we’ve done.”

“So there is a lot of work behind a class,” Katehi said, adding, “One class a semester is what research faculty are doing in most departments here, and most universities, as a matter of fact.”

Katehi did not want to spend much time looking backwards or speculating about what Chancellor Gary May has ahead of him. Instead, she said she feels “very good” returning to her discipline, referring to being a faculty member as a “calling,” while serving in administration was more a responsibility she felt compelled to do.

“Seriously … this transition would have happened no matter what. I mean, being an administrator is not a permanent job. It’s not a career. And I’m very glad that it happened early in my life so I have another 10 or 15 years in front of me” for research and teaching.

“I would like to say,” Katehi continued, “that I am very thankful and proud for the opportunity to be the chancellor here. I really felt good about … my contributions to the university. But I also thought it was time for me to go back to my discipline to do the things that I really like to do.”

Katehi also feels like that UCD is the right place for her.

“I don’t need anymore to be in the No. 1 engineering school in the country,” which she said is more a label a university itself wants. “What matters is whether the environment is right so I can do my work, and to be in a place where my work is going to be recognized.”

She said she believes “the core of the university are the students and the faculty. Now I do extremely appreciate the support of everybody else on this staff… but we should not forget what the core is.”

Katehi continued. “Being a faculty member, that is probably the best and the most prestigious identification that I would like assigned to my name.”

Notes: Katehi told The Enterprise this past October that she was working on a memoir, which she spent time on this summer in Greece. She has found a publisher for the book about her experiences as a female faculty member in engineering. “It’s going to be a very positive book,” she noted. “Of course my life as an engineer or as a woman in STEM was not always rosy, but the outcomes were good. I wanted to remind other, younger women that there is an opportunity to do great things. And engineering is the way to do that.”

— Reach Tanya Perez at or 530-747-8082. Follow her on Twitter at @EnterpriseTanya