New SDSU president withheld email from investigators

UC Davis pay boost linked to Katehi family ties

San Diego State University president-designate Adela de la Torre
  • San Diego State University president-designate Adela de la Torre

Newly designated San Diego State University president Adela de la Torre, a key focus of the 2016 investigation into improper influence at the University of California Davis, denied investigators access to her email accounts, according to an August 1, 2016, report prepared for university regents.

The independent review by the Orrick law firm of allegations related to then-Davis-chancellor Linda Katehi cleared Katehi of wrong-doing in engineering a 22.6 percent salary boost for her friend De la Torre, currently vice chancellor of student affairs and campus diversity at UC Davis, where she was paid $313,875 in 2016.

“The investigation team uncovered no evidence suggesting that Chancellor Katehi proposed the pay increase and title change for Dr. de la Torre because Dr. de la Torre employed Chancellor Katehi’s daughter-in-law, or because Dr. de la Torre advised and employed Chancellor Katehi’s son,” says the report.

But the conclusion of the carefully worded document, heavily redacted for public consumption, was accompanied by significant caveats, including the possibility of concealment of evidence.

“Dr. de la Torre provided consent for the investigation team to access her University-issued electronic devices,” says the investigative report,

“However, she declined to provide consent for the investigation team to review email correspondence associated with her UC Davis email accounts and her UC Davis network and cloud files.”

“Accordingly, [UC Office of the President] authorized the investigation team’s nonconsensual access to her UC Davis emails.”

The report continues, “The investigation team received emails from Dr. de la Torre’s Student Affairs email account (the email account established in connection with her role as Vice Chancellor, Student Affairs)….

“However, Dr. de la Torre had previously arranged with UC Davis IT staff to route emails from her faculty email account (the email account established in connection with her position as a UC Davis faculty member) to her personal Gmail account. This is apparently a common practice among some UC Davis faculty.”

As a result, the investigators said, “Dr. de la Torre’s faculty account emails were not available on UC Davis servers.”

“Citing privacy concerns, Dr. de la Torre declined to grant the investigative team access to these emails through her Gmail account.”

“The investigative team provided the attorney representing Dr. de la Torre with targeted search terms.”

“However, citing cost and time commitment concerns, Dr. de la Torre declined to search her Gmail account and provide responsive documents to the investigation team.”

“Materials reviewed by the investigative team indicate that Dr. de la Torre used both her Vice Chancellor and faculty email accounts to discuss issues related to this investigation.”

“Thus, there may exist relevant communications or documents that were not made available to the investigation team,” the report says.

The Sacramento Bee raised questions about De la Torre and her fast-rising salary in April 2016, after then-chancellor Katehi was placed on administrative leave by U.C. president Janet Napolitano during the investigation that ultimately led Katehi to step down.

“De la Torre, an agricultural economist, started at the university in 2011 as a professor earning $167,000,” the paper reported. “She was promoted to interim vice chancellor in August 2012 and was bumped up to $236,000 a year. She was given the title of vice chancellor in August 2013 and got a $7,000 annual bump. In July 2014, her salary increased to $252,800, then to $310,000 in July 2015.”

Noted the paper’s account, “UC Davis justified the increase by saying de la Torre's duties were expanding to include campus-wide diversity efforts instead of hiring a new employee.”

Added the Bee, “Napolitano's first concern when placing Katehi on leave Wednesday was the potential for nepotism involving her son and daughter-in-law and that their employment matters may have violated UC policy.”

In a letter to Katehi, UC president Napolitano wrote:

“Questions have been raised about the employment of some members of your family, including whether employment actions related to your daughter-in-law and son violate University conflict-of-interest policies and requirements related to the employment of near relatives."

But the review by Orrick dismissed nepotism claims arising from De la Torre’s hiring of Emily Prieto as the vice chancellor’s chief of staff. Prieto is married to Katehi’s son, Erik Tseregounis, who also reported to De la Torre.

“In light of these relationships, Chancellor Katehi, Dr. Prieto, and Vice Chancellor de la Torre executed near-relative agreements in March 2015, following the couple’s engagement, designed to insulate Chancellor Katehi from employment-related decisions regarding her son and future daughter-in-law,” according to Orrick’s report.

"When they met, she was the chief of staff,” Katehi told the Bee regarding the relationship between Prieto and Tseregounis. “And I know that sounds very difficult, but I have to tell you I could not ask her to give up her job to marry my son, and I couldn't ask him to go and meet somebody else."

Katehi, who was given a year off at full pay after agreeing to resign August 9, 2016, following release of the Orrick investigation, was given a job as a UC Davis engineering professor in September 2017 at a salary of $318,200.

De la Torre will receive the same $428,645 salary as predecessor Elliot Hirshman, according to published reports.

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No, no, Matt, say it ain't so! This woman at the center of a campus scandal at UC Davis that involved cronyism/nepotism and poor judgment on the part of the chancellor (campus CEO) is now going to be the new president of SDSU. She was the subject of an "investigation" that involved her salary and other improprieties, and was part of the scandal that resulted in the firing of Linda Katehi, excuse me, her "stepping down." That was one of the nastiest such events in UC history, and De la Torre skated clear of it all with her magnificent salary intact.

Now the CSU system is hiring her to run SDSU? I'm (almost) speechless. That campus needs someone with a squeaky-clean reputation to come in and restore confidence. Hirshman, Weber and Day all took their toll on the reputation of the operation. Now we get this "agricultural economist" with all her negative baggage. If that mess at UC Davis had been handled properly, she would have "stepped down" along with her boss, Katehi. Had she not blocked the investigation, it is likely she would have been removed.

There's plenty of reason to suggest that the president of the UC should have been fired recently. Instead, after she had been caught red-handed in manipulating some performance measures, the regents admonished her. This whole edu-administration cabal in California is utterly corrupt, and De la Torre is part of it.

The result is that SDSU gets a new president who comes to town under an ethical cloud, with no particular qualifications to run the CSU's up-and-coming "research university." Just when you think it can't get worse, it does.

But she is female and Hispanic so it does not matter as long as the appointment is politically correct.

So would you like a male Germanic one and his family, like these days in racist Washington?

Come on, now! SDSU has a land grab to accomplish down in Mission Valley. She seems to be just the kin of character to slide this kind of thing right under the rug!

Today's (2/1/18) U-T has a story on this new president at the top of the front page. The byline is of Gary Robbins, and it's so nice to see the free press hard at work. There is no mention of this scandal at UC Davis anywhere in the piece! It is full of rah-rah comments from here and there. Adam Day, San Diego's sole member of the CSU board of trustees raves about her qualifications.

I must remind readers that Adam Day is the son of the notorious Tom Day who served as SDSU president for many years. He was beloved by few stakeholders in that university, and was finally pushed out to pasture due to his abrasive style and accumulated grievances.

It's folly to hire those with "abrasive style" in the first place, especially at a large public university. It will only lead to trouble. Too often hiring people think the person is motivated, driven and a go-getter, rather than realizing the person is often just a pushy, obnoxious, boorish, unqualified bloviator. It's the same with voting for a President.

I have heard speculation from some students that with her Hispanic Studies street cred, she has been brought in to kill off the Aztec mascot and imagery, and, otherwise, for the State U system to show its commitment to diversity.

The Aztec mascot was going to be zapped, regardless of who became president.

That makes sense. If there was any chance that the mascot would survive this round of criticism, it is gone now.

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