UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi will meet with community leaders and students in coming weeks to answer questions about a string of recent controversies that have dogged the school, she said in a statement released to The Sacramento Bee on Monday evening.
“The university’s identity has been shaken by a series of highly publicized missteps,” Katehi wrote. “Some were my own doing. All occurred under my watch. For that, I sincerely apologize. None of them should diminish the collective historic accomplishments of this university, but they have been a setback for our reputation and hard-earned prestige.”
She said she would appear “at a series of public forums and media events to answer any and all questions people have about these issues or our future.”
The statement comes after nearly six weeks of controversy that resulted in a five-week sit-in at the chancellor’s office by UC Davis students and calls for Katehi’s resignation from seven lawmakers.
Student protesters staged the sit-in after The Sacramento Bee reported that Katehi had accepted a paid seat on the board of DeVry Education Group as the for-profit company faced federal allegations of exaggerated job-placement claims. In the face of criticism, Katehi apologized and resigned from the seat.
In hindsight, we should have been more careful in reviewing some of the more unrealistic and ridiculous scope-of-work claims in the written proposals of our outside vendors.
UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi
The Bee subsequently reported that she had received $420,000 in three years for serving on the board of textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons. Katehi has defended accepting the seat, but pledged $200,000 in Wiley stock toward a scholarship fund.
Legislators reacted to the reports by holding a hearing at the Capitol featuring Katehi to discuss whether the state’s top education leaders should be allowed to accept paid board seats.
Criticism reignited last week after a Bee report that the school spent at least $175,000 to scrub the Internet of negative publicity surrounding the 2011 pepper-spraying episode and execute an online branding campaign to boost the image of the university and chancellor.
Online reputation management is a growing field in which companies offer to improve Google and other search engine results by churning out positive news stories, news releases and announcements to minimize previous negative results. Some schools also use them to help students clean up their online presence before graduation.
According to one contract proposal obtained by The Bee, a Maryland company subsequently hired by UC Davis said it could eradicate references to the pepper-spray incident in search results on Google for the school and Katehi.
In Monday’s statement, Katehi said the university should have reviewed the “more unrealistic and ridiculous scope-of-work claims” from outside vendors more carefully. “What might be acceptable industry hyperbole in the private public relations world falls far beneath the high standards of a public institution of higher learning,” she wrote.
The documents outlining the expenditures were released to The Sacramento Bee this week in response to requests filed last month under the California Public Records Act.
“Because of the importance of philanthropy to UC Davis and the need to make sure those searching for information about our university get a complete picture, we needed to do a better job telling the world about the university’s extraordinary achievements,” she wrote.
A UC Davis spokeswoman previously told The Bee the funds for the outside consultant came from the strategic communications budget. In Katehi’s statement, she said no funds for consultants came from general fund appropriations or student tuition and fees.
During her tenure, the university increased the communications budget by $2.5 million, according to Bee research. Katehi said $1.6 million went to increased costs for health and retirement benefits and to pay new and existing employes to work on social media, web development, videography and news. She said $1 million paid for a campaign to highlight the school’s contributions to California agriculture.
The school’s effort to manage its reputation continues. The university hired one outside consultant since March 1 to work on the school’s image, according to UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis.
“None of our communications efforts were intended – or attempted – to erase online content or rewrite history,” Katehi said in her statement. “At UC Davis, we live with the lessons of 2011 every day. We are a better university because of it. And we succeeded in providing the public with a fuller understanding of everything UC Davis has to offer.
“Now as we move forward, it is crucial that I and the university not just lament these mistakes, but learn from them.”