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.