UC Davis paid to repair its online image
The University of California Student Association is calling for the resignation or firing of UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, joining with seven legislators and student protesters who say Katehi must go.
The association, which represents 240,000 students in UC schools statewide, cited revelations Wednesday in The Sacramento Bee that UC Davis spent at least $175,000 trying to scrub the Internet of negative references related to the November 2011 pepper-spraying of students by campus police.
Katehi, accompanied by a man with a shirt that read “Security” on the back, rebuffed a question Saturday at the campus’ annual Picnic Day about student calls that she step down. She said the university will respond further to The Bee’s report on Monday, but gave no details.
“There is going to be a response to The Bee because The Bee has … misrepresented the facts. There is going to be a response on Monday,” Katehi said.
The student association voted Friday night to seek Katehi's ouster and announced the results in a statement on its Facebook page.
“The pepper-spray incident shaped student protest and campus response for the last five years,” association President Kevin Sabo said in a statement after the vote. “Chancellor Katehi abdicated responsibility, but still felt it was necessary to initiate an impossible hunt to save her reputation.
“This is not a lapse in judgment, but a pattern of Katehi’s blatant disregard of her responsibility as a UC leader.”
The incident occurred as campus police broke up a peaceful demonstration against rising tuition costs by pepper-spraying students who were seated on the ground and linking arms. Video of the incident went viral on the Internet and has been viewed millions of times.
The Bee, relying on documents obtained through the California Public Records Act, reported that UC Davis hired two firms after the incident to try to repair the damage online to both the reputation of the school and to Katehi.
One document obtained by The Bee showed that a Maryland company was paid nearly $93,000 after offering to “create and execute an online branding campaign designed to clean up the negative attention the University of California, Davis, and Chancellor Katehi have received related to the events that transpired in November 2011.”
Outrage over those revelations have spawned new life for reports on the pepper-spraying as users of Twitter, Facebook and other social media have spread the reports.
On Wednesday, before The Bee’s report, a Google search for “UC Davis pepper spray” produced about 100,000 results. Saturday morning, the number was 267,000.
On Wednesday, UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis told The Bee in an emailed statement that the money used to pay the firms came from “a communications budget.”
On Friday night, however, UC Davis Provost Ralph Hexter issued a statement to the campus stating that the stories “mischaracterize the facts.”
Instead, the school claims in a “frequently asked questions” statement that there was no effort to scrub the Internet, but that the companies were hired “to improve our capacity and expertise in digital communications.”
The statement also claims that “no taxpayer funds or tuition dollars were used” in the effort, despite the statement earlier in the week.