The Public Eye

Read the report UC Davis officials filed after Switzerland trip

After visiting Nestlé headquarters in Switzerland at the request of UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, university officials envisioned a campus control center with large video screens displaying tweets and social media likes and comments about UC Davis that would monitor the school’s online reputation, according to a report provided to The Sacramento Bee on Thursday.

UC Davis officials in December suggested that the school house the center at its administration building, Mrak Hall, to keep it close to strategic communications employees who would use it on a daily basis. They said the school should model it after the Nestlé Digital Enhancement Lab in Vevey, Switzerland, which they visited.

They warned that “many people are wary of this kind of monitoring software” and often call it “big brother,” “spy machine” or “mission command center,” according to the 11-page report provided to The Bee. They said that UC Davis, like Nestlé, should give its center a positive name like “digital engagement center” and “make it accessible to the community.”

Plans for the center were placed on hold after Katehi was suspended in April, said UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis.

The Bee reported Wednesday the UC Davis strategic communications staff also visited social media experts at Dell Inc. in Austin, Texas, and Marriott’s headquarters in Bethesda, Md. The trips in November and December last year cost more than $17,000 in airfare, lodging and other expenses, according to travel records and emails released in response to Public Records Act requests filed by The Bee.

UC Davis officials suggested staffing their center with communication specialists “connected to the greater goal of enhancing the reputation of UC Davis” and that it could double as a classroom to teach students about social media or allow them to work on research, according to the report.

Officials suggested that the center “serve as a nerve center for best practices” to support other campus units with their social media efforts.

Before the project was temporarily shelved, staff met with campus facilities officials to find a space for the center and added a video expert to the task force.

“There were continued discussions about planning for space and forming a faculty and student advisory committee, but those had not happened yet,” Topousis said.

Katehi is being investigated for alleged nepotism, misuse of student funds and misleading university officials about contracts to erase search engine results about the November 2011 pepper-spraying of students by campus police. Findings from the investigation by former U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag are expected to be completed by Aug. 1.

Katehi spokesman Larry Kamer, who was hired by the chancellor’s lawyer after Katehi was suspended, defended the trips Wednesday.

“Chancellor Katehi is immensely proud of this effort, which would have created the first and only digital acceleration lab at a university anywhere,” Kamer said.

He criticized Napolitano’s office for releasing the documents without any notification to Katehi.


Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert