from the your-tax-dollars-at-work dept.
The University of California in Davis has spent $175,000 to try to improve its online image:
The University of California in Davis has spent $175,000 on search engine optimization (SEO) and online reputation management – to hide an embarrassing incident in which students were pepper-sprayed on campus. The massive bill has come to light this week after the Sacramento Bee filed information requests on the university's expenditure after it noticed that its "strategic communications budget" has nearly doubled from $2.93 million in 2009 to $5.47 million in 2015.
The newspaper found that the university had taken out several contracts aimed at "cleaning up the negative attention" that the university received when students were pepper-sprayed in November 2011 during a protest over large tuition fee hikes and in support of the broader Occupy movement of that time. The incident received worldwide attention when video was published of UC Davis police officer Lt. John Pike nonchalantly spraying a group of students with the chemical spray while they sat on the ground holding a peaceful rally.
[...] In an effort to limit the university's connection with the pepper-spraying, UC Davis hired Maryland-based Nevins & Associates for $15,000 a month for six months to "create and execute an online branding campaign" not just for the University of Davis, but also its chancellor Linda Katehi, who was widely criticized for her handling of the protests and faced calls for her resignation.
Here's the website of The University of California in Davis. Did I mention the University of California in Davis?
Earlier this year, we discussed how UC Davis detailed in a report that it spent $175k with a reputation management firm to try bury the 2011 pepper-spraying incident that has become so infamous, as well as to bolster the positive reputation and search results of its former Chancellor, Linda Katehi.
[...] A new report has been issued that makes it clear that the $175k with the one reputation management vendor was just the tip of the iceberg, and that Katehi's obsession with her own online reputation was far more serious than anyone had known. Indeed, her attempts to meddle in her own online search results started long before the 2011 pepper-spraying incident.
[...] While the initial reporting indicated a single vendor had been paid $175k on Katehi's request to try to control messaging about the school and herself through a barrage of good, but trumped up, press, UC Davis actually hired three different reputation management firms to do this, all to the tune of over $400k. And she appears to have been more concerned with her own reputation than that of the school she was to be stewarding.
[...] It goes without saying that as we, the link above, and several other online media outlets are discussing these revelations, and placing them alongside the original 2011 incident for context, the work of the three vendors and the nearly half a million dollars paid to them has failed.
El Reg reports
Linda Katehi, the chancellor of the University of California, Davis, has been suspended pending an investigation into the decision to spent hundreds of thousand of dollars improving Google search results for her name, amid a range of other questionable activities.
The decision to put Katehi on paid administrative leave was made by UC President Janet Napolitano, who wrote a two-page letter(PDF) to Katehi noting she would be suspended for 90 days pending the outcome of a "rigorous and transparent investigation."
The revelation that Katehi's office had spent $175,000 in an effort to "achieve a reasonable balance of positive natural search results on common terms concerning UC Davis and Chancellor Katehi" was dug out by the Sacramento Bee looking into why UC Davis' "strategic communications budget" had jumped from $2.93M in 2009 to $5.47M in 2015.
The events Katehi was seeking to whitewash--when security officers pepper-sprayed sitting students back in 2011--received nationwide press attention for the seemingly callous way in which the undergraduates were treated. The news that the university had secretly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to remove that reputational stain was similarly covered.
[...] Napolitano's letter also puts a spotlight on other concerns over Katehi's behavior, including the employment of her son, her husband, and her daughter-in-law by the university.
[...] The letter [also] refers to complaints that student fees have been used for "unapproved instructional purposes" which would be "a serious violation of University policy".
[...] UC Davis students have been holding rallies calling for Katehi's resignation for over a week.