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Shakedown at UC Davis By: Lloyd Billingsley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Position: Senior Advisor to the Chancellor, University of California at Davis.
Salary: $205,000, plus $50,000 bonus.
Benefits: Full University of California health and retirement benefits.
Duties: None.
Possibility for dismissal or layoff: None.
Workplace: Home.

A public notice for such a package would attract many candidates but there was no ad in the Chronicle of Higher Education or anywhere else. The University of California at Davis cut the deal, in secret, for one woman, vice chancellor Celeste Rose.

A UCLA grad who earned a law degree from UC Davis in 1982, Rose served in the early 1980s as a legislative aide to Willie Brown, Speaker of the California Assembly.  She went on to compile an impressive c.v.:  assistant director of governmental relations in the Office of the President of the University of California; executive director for public affairs at the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 1997--"the first black woman appointed to the NCAA's senior management staff," as the announcement put it; then, in 1998, the vice chancellor for university relations at UC Davis.


In February, 2005, however, this story of upward mobility ended—or appeared to – when UC Davis chancellor Larry N. Vanderhoef told Rose that the Davis campus wanted to make changes in "advancement leadership," and that she needed to resign in June. She would keep her salary of $186,000 until the end of the calendar year and UC Davis would assist her in finding another job.  This was the beginning of another chapter in the saga of higher education’s clumsy attempt to play the race card, alternatively upping the ante and folding.


Nobody will go on record about the reason Vanderhoef asked Rose to step down but Davis insiders flag the problem as job performance. These individuals, who fear to talk on the record, also note that her record would have to be abysmal for UC Davis to show the door to a black, female administrator, the campus equivalent of a trophy wife.  It was Davis, after all, that maintained the 16-percent racial quota that led to the 1978 Bakke case. The University of California has since adopted rules against racial preferences, and in 1996, voters approved Proposition 209, the initiative that eliminated racial preferences in state employment, education and contracting. But the Davis campus remains obsessed with diversity and inclusion, code words for quotas.


The original deal offered to Rose equaled or surpassed the golden parachute given to other UC Davis senior managers who had also been asked to step down. For her part, Rose believed her parachute was not quite golden enough and retained Melinda Guzman Moore, a Davis alum and promoter of affirmative action. On May 9, 2005, Guzman Moore wrote to UC Davis chancellor Larry N. Vanderhoef praising Rose's performance as "stellar," and "unmatched by any of her peers." Rose was an "icon" and "a role model for all employees, and in particular for minority and African American employees."


White males and females at Davis, Guzman Moore charged, had not been subject to the "harsh termination procedures." They had been given "soft landings," assignments and paid leaves of absence. "The only logical conclusion that can be deduced from these facts is that you have treated Vice Chancellor Rose differently because of her race and gender." It was further charged that "Vice Chancellor Rose's abrupt termination leaves an objective observer to conclude that her treatment is based on the fact that she is a woman, an African American woman, or an African American."


Guzman Moore was not an "objective observer" but Rose's attorney. And the treatment of other employees and UC Davis hiring practices did not prove race and gender discrimination against Celeste Rose. But the prospect of any accusation on a race-and-gender theme proved enough to throw UC Davis bosses into full retreat. To keep her quiet they reached for the checkbook of public funds. In that cause, Rose enjoyed some help beyond the services of Guzman Moore.


Celeste Rose is married to Vincent Harris, who works for Assemblyman Mark Ridley-Thomas, a member of the Legislature’s Black Caucus. Bruce Darling, the UC's Senior Vice President for University Affairs is on record that caucus members made some calls to ensure that Rose got a good deal. She did.


On June 1, less than three weeks after Guzman Moore's letter, Vanderhoef served Rose with a lucrative hush-money package: $205,000 a year for two years – a raise of nearly $20,000 from her former salary – as Senior Advisor to the Chancellor at the Davis campus, a sinecure in which she would have to approve any duties. She can't be fired and gets the money even if she quits. According to UC Davis officials, the deal could increase Rose's severance by $20,500 and her annual pension by $17,000 a year.


Rose dropped her accusation and grabbed the money. A few days after she signed the lucrative deal she partied with Bruce Darling and seven other high UC officials at Biba's in Sacramento, where they ran up a bill of $652.38, most of it on the UC tab, that included $230 for wine.


Only a few people knew about the hush money, not revealed to UC regents whose board chairman and financial chair must approve settlements of more than $250,000. A UC mouthpiece lamely tried to pass off the hush money as a "separation agreement," and therefore not subject to review, even though both UC Davis and Rose's attorney refer to the deal as a "settlement agreement."


UC policy also calls for the Regents to give the nod for any raises or new appointments for salaries of $168,000 and beyond. Rose's deal qualifies, but UC Davis officials failed to tell the Regents about it. Neither did they issue a press release but the story emerged six months after UC began paying Rose to do nothing.


By then the entire UC system was under fire for hiking student fees 79 percent while secretly dishing $871 million on bonuses, stipends and perks for already highly paid administrators. The story touched off calls in Sacramento for audits and investigations. The San Francisco Chronicle, which broke the story, had asked UC officials about staffers who had left their positions but were still on the payroll. That led them to Celeste Rose.


Three days before last Christmas, Larry Vanderhoef sent out an email telling "campus community members" to keep in mind that a settlement doesn't mean accusations are true. He hinted at "fuller information" that only he possessed and said he did what was best for the university. It "troubles and saddens me," he said, that some might assume the claims are true. It appeared to trouble Vanderhoef not at all that he had paid nearly half a million in public funds for a non-job and hushed the whole thing up, against UC rules.


Nobody called on the UC regents to fire Vanderhoef but UC Davis faculty collected enough signatures for a no-confidence vote on the chancellor.  But faculty did not find the shakedown politically incorrect enough to turn thumbs down, even in a non-binding vote. When they tallied the ballots in March, Davis faculty rejected the measure by 69.6 percent to 30.4 percent.


The shakedown confirms that accusations of racial and gender discrimination remain a powerful incantation in the University of California, and that in practice such accusations equal guilt. The orthodoxies of political correctness still hold that statistical disparities on campus are always the result of discrimination and must be remedied by government action. Or more money. Celeste Rose got hers, and Davis brass got away with giving it to her.


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Lloyd Billingsley is the author of From Mainline to Sideline, the Social Witness of the National Council of Churches, and Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930s and 1940s.

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