My American Dreams and Nightmares in the Hidden Halls of Academia
by Linda Katehi
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Pub Date 8 Aug 2023 | Archive Date 8 Sep 2023
When Linda Katehi was six years old, growing up in war-ravaged Greece, she turned to her mother and said, “I do not want to be poor!” Her mother replied: “Then go to school and be a good student. This is the only thing that can save you.”
She relentlessly pursued the dream that was born that day, overcoming sexism and xenophobia to graduate college as one of two women in her class and become a respected innovator in the male-dominated field of engineering. It was an American Dream, embodied in her appointment in 2009 as chancellor of the University of California, Davis.
At Davis, she put forth a visionary plan to share her dream by expanding the university’s reach both locally and globally—adding new interdisciplinary research areas and opening the doors to more foreign-born students to make UC Davis a global beacon of education.
The backlash from opponents in the University of California system, the Davis campus, and the surrounding communities was familiar and vitriolic. It turned her dream into a nightmare that only ended when she let go of what she thought she wanted most.
Higher Ground is a lyrically written and emotionally devastating window into the hidden world of academia—at once an intimate personal history, a high-tension workplace drama, and an unforgettable spiritual journey.
“This is an inspiring but also alarming memoir by one of America’s foremost female engineers and academic leaders. Professor Katehi’s story illustrates the incredible challenges that even the most accomplished, decent women continue to face in academia, especially as they climb the administrative ladder. At the same time, her story is heartwarming in the way that it illustrates the importance of a close, loving family (plus one’s own special archangel).”
—Robert Birgeneau, chancellor emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
“Higher Ground is a breathtaking memoir by a woman engineer who, despite her gender and unlikely origins, rose to the top of academia in the United States only to be undermined by political infighting. Only now are we beginning to hear from the first wave of women to reach the highest levels of education. This magnificent book sets a high standard for the many other sobering stories that are likely to follow.”
—Nancy Hopkins, groundbreaking cancer researcher and Amgen Professor of Biology Emerita at MIT
“Powerful and evocative. A dramatic narrative of a life of struggle, success, downfall, and victory. Gripping writing marks moments of tenderness, loss, doubt, and wisdom—revealing the creative force of a fierce intellect that will not be stopped. In Higher Ground, Linda Katehi delivers a sweeping story, almost classic in its tragedies and epiphanies.”
—Suad Joseph, distinguished research professor, University of California, Davis