Katie Porter extended leave approved after UC Irvine dean warned rejection could reflect ‘badly’ on school

EXCLUSIVE: Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, a professor at University of California, Irvine, (UCI), had her unpaid leave extended last year after a dean argued that approving the congresswoman’s request could provide “significant benefits” to the school, emails show. 

Porter, who is running for reelection in California’s 47th Congressional District against Republican nominee Scott Baugh, taught at UCI’s law school before heading to Congress. She has been on unpaid leave from the $258,000-a-year job for nearly four years while living in a four-bedroom, three-bath University Hills residence that is typically reserved for faculty and high-level staff.

According to emails and records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and shared with Fox News Digital, Porter applied to extend her leave from January 2021 through December 2022 and was initially denied.

“She has been on an approved leave without pay since January 2019,” Eva Maida, a senior Academic Personnel analyst at UCI, wrote in an email to then-law school Dean L. Song Richardson, on Feb. 5, 2021.

Representative Katie Porter (D-CA45) conducts a town hall meeting at Mike Ward Community Park. 

Representative Katie Porter (D-CA45) conducts a town hall meeting at Mike Ward Community Park.  (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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“The duration of her leave is unprecedented and by exception, therefore, any leave beyond June 30, 2021, will not be approved,” Maida wrote. “Congresswoman Porter should be advised of this notice so that she may decide what her futures plans with UCI will be.”

Richardson then fired off an email to Maida’s boss, Vice Provost of Academic Personnel Diane O’Dowd, asking her to “reconsider” the decision to deny Porter’s leave request.

Pictured: Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., speaks on gun violence during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 8, 2022.

Pictured: Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., speaks on gun violence during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 8, 2022.

Richardson argued that “from the university’s perspective, it would not shed a good light on UCI for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives to be told to either resign from a democratically-elected position or resign from UCI.”

“Moreover, this seems inconsistent with the aspiration for members of UCI’s faculty to serve at the highest levels of national public service,” Richardson continued. “Finally, to have an elected member of the United States Congress who can advocate on behalf of Orange County, including UCI, surely has significant benefits for the campus.”

“I am also certain that when news of our decision to not grant her a leave of absence through the end of her second term in office goes public, it would surely reflect very badly on UCI,” she added.

Maida later responded on Feb. 12, 2021, that Porter’s leave had been granted through December 2022 after “further consideration and discussion.”

Reps. Katie Porter, D-Calif., center, Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., left, and Deb Haaland, D-N.M., attend a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in Rayburn Building titled Reaching Hard-to-Count Communities in the 2020 Census, on Thursday, January 9, 2020. 

Reps. Katie Porter, D-Calif., center, Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., left, and Deb Haaland, D-N.M., attend a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in Rayburn Building titled Reaching Hard-to-Count Communities in the 2020 Census, on Thursday, January 9, 2020.  (Getty Images)

In an email the next day to Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Hal S. Stern, O’Dowd gave a “heads up” that she wound up approving Porter’s request after finding precedent for extended leave on two other college campuses.

Vice Provost of Academic Personnel Diane O’Dowd emailed Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Hal S. Stern to give him a "heads up" that Rep. Katie Porter's, D-Calif., leave 

Vice Provost of Academic Personnel Diane O’Dowd emailed Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Hal S. Stern to give him a “heads up” that Rep. Katie Porter’s, D-Calif., leave  (Fox News Digital)

“Just wanted to give you a heads up that we did change our decision and approve Katie Porter’s leave for her full term,” O’Dowd wrote. “We consulted with other campuses and there was precedent for extending LWOP for beyond the 2 year limit when it involved elected government service such as this, and there was strong Dean support. At least two other campuses said they had done in past and most said they would be likely to support currently if situation arose.”

Homes in University Hills, an academic housing subdivision at UCI, reportedly sell for about half their regular market value, and more than 250 academics are on the waitlist amid a nationwide housing shortage and skyrocketing mortgage rates.

Residents are required to work full-time for the university, with an exception built in for retirees. For those no longer employed by the school, an enforcement provision kicks in, which in Porter’s case would require her to pay off her mortgage within months.

Porter purchased her home in 2011 for $523,000. She explained in September that she “followed the applicable (University of California) policies, as well as all applicable state and federal law.”

“I am always happy to be transparent with voters,” Porter said. “I take a lot of pride in my record on transparency and good governance and have been asked about this before by voters and have always been happy to give them full and complete information.”

UC Irvine spokesperson Tom Vasich said in September that faculty “on approved leaves without pay remain UCI employees, and they can maintain their home in University Hills.”

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Porter’s campaign did not respond to Fox News Digital’s inquiries asking whether she will request to extend her leave beyond December 2022 if she wins reelection next week, and whether she will continue to own her University Hills home if that happens.

Richardson and O’Dowd did not respond to Fox News Digital’s requests for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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