Shocked community leaders wonder whether pressure of job prompted Denton’s apparent suicide in San Francisco
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. Shocked community leaders are wondering whether the pressure of the job prompted the apparent suicide of the University of California, Santa Cruz chancellor.
“Everybody’s stunned,” Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Mathews said June 25 of the death of Denice Dee Denton, 46. “It’s sad for her personally and for the university. It’s been a very tough tenure for her.”
Denton, a lesbian, apparently jumped from a 43-story luxury apartment building in downtown San Francisco on Saturday, police and university officials said. Her longtime partner, Gretchen Kalonji, has an apartment in the building, according to property records.
In this city famous for political activism, running the University of California campus can be a pressure-cooker, Mathews said.
“This is a community that puts everybody in a spotlight,” she said. “That can create a lot of pressure. I’m not sure she was prepared for that.”
Denton’s mother, Carolyn Mabee, was in the apartment building the time of the death, and reportedly told investigators her daughter was “very depressed” about personal and professional problems.
Denton was appointed two years ago and inherited an array of controversies. There were red-hot debates over the university’s long-range plans to increase enrollment, and growing statewide concerns about UC perquisites for executives.
Denton was also plagued by accusations of lavish spending at a time the university is raising fees and cutting budgets.
She was criticized for demanding $600,000 in renovations to her campus home and for helping secure a $192,000-a-year job for Kalonji as director of international strategy development.
Denton was also ensnared in the controversy that erupted last fall over revelations that UC executives were granted millions of dollars in bonuses, housing allowances and other perks without proper approval.
An independent audit released in April found that Denton received a series of benefits in violation of UC policy, including a $21,000 moving allowance and a $16,000 signing bonus.
“She had, I thought, a very good way of keeping things in perspective,” said Stephen Thorsett, dean of the university’s Division of Physical and Biological Sciences. “She understood that the job could be hard sometimes, but she dealt with that well. That’s why this is such a shock for those of us that knew her so well.”
Denton sometimes wondered to friends if attacks against her were driven by her sexual orientation and position as a woman chancellor, said City Councilman Mike Rotkin.
“The criticism was fairly relentless, but I never got the impression that any of that bothered her,” Rotkin said. “She had a particularly forceful personality. She turned a deaf ear to it. She was prepared to do battle if necessary.”
And though Denton was not heavily involved in activism surrounding local gay and lesbian issues, she was an influential role model, said Bob Correa, past director of The Diversity Center, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center.
“She came to town with the label as an “‘out lesbian,’ no one outed her, and that always has a positive impact,” Correa said. “Young people need to see that. Her role as a leader in the UC community was an important symbol.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 30, 2006.