Commentary: Turns Out UCD Had Something to Hide

Share:

Pepper-spray

For weeks, media including the Vanguard has complained that UC Davis is slow-playing requests for public information.  A week after the Sacramento Bee ran its story about the university’s stall on Public Records Act requests, the first bombshell has hit.

The Bee yesterday reported, “UC Davis contracted with consultants for at least $175,000 to scrub the Internet of negative online postings following the November 2011 pepper-spraying of students and to improve the reputations of both the university and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, newly released documents show.”

The revelations come as protesters once again are calling for the chancellor to resign or be fired.  And it is not just protesters, at least five legislators have publicly called for the chancellor to resign following public disclosures about the chancellor taking paid side gigs with for-profit educational institutions, as well as a textbook company.

But amid the debate over the propriety of the chancellor’s consulting and board positions, the revelations by the Sacramento Bee may be far more damaging, as they show the use of public money in a PR campaign.

The Bee reports, “The payments were made as the university was trying to boost its image online and were among several contracts issued following the pepper-spray incident.”

Perhaps the university can defend such efforts as they were hoping to improve “the results computer users obtained when searching for information about the university or Katehi, results that one consultant labeled ‘venomous rhetoric about UC Davis and the chancellor.’”

But the figures published by the Bee show “the strategic communications budget increased from $2.93 million in 2009 to $5.47 million in 2015.”

“We have worked to ensure that the reputation of the university, which the chancellor leads, is fairly portrayed,” said UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis, as reported by the Bee. “We wanted to promote and advance the important teaching, research and public service done by our students, faculty and staff, which is the core mission of our university.”

The Bee reports, “The documents reflect an aggressive effort to counteract an avalanche of negative publicity that arose after the Nov. 18, 2011, pepper-spraying of student protesters by campus police. Fallout from that incident continued for more than a year, as investigations and lawsuits played out and spawned criticism of UC Davis and demands that Katehi resign.”

The Bee released some of those documents showing that, in January 2013, UC Davis signed a contract with Nevins & Associates for six months that paid $15,000 a month.  One document reads, “Nevins & Associates is prepared 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.”

Among other things it says, “Online evidence and the venomous rhetoric about UC Davis and the Chancellor are being filtered through the 24-hour news cycle but it is at a tepid pace. Our campaign will expedite this process through strategic placement of online content and an increased adoption of Google platforms that will serve to specifically target viral content found on YouTube and in search results on Google.”

Among the stated objectives is included, “Launch an aggressive and comprehensive online campaign to eliminate the negative search results for UC Davis and the Chancellor through strategic modifications to existing and future content and generating original content as needed,” as well as eradication of references to the pepper spray incident in search results on Google for the university and the Chancellor.”

“It is troubling that the administration chose to spend scarce public dollars and to nearly double its PR budget when tuition soared, course offerings were slashed and California resident students were being shut out,” said Assemblymember Kevin McCarty. “These findings just raise more questions about university priorities.”

The key question is how these revelations impact the ongoing dispute.

While a small number of protesters continue to hold down Mrak Hall, the protesters on the one-month anniversary of their sit-in noted, “We have received support from multiple California legislators and 39 statements of solidarity from Davis faculty, students, workers, labor unions, and community groups.”

They also noted that “the recent legislative hearing evaluating the integrity of Katehi’s actions and their implications for administrative policy across the UC and CSU systems, underscored our assertion that there is no realistic justification for Katehi’s conduct. Administrators at UC Davis have proven themselves incapable of appropriately responding to this situation, and have failed to hold themselves accountable to the students, workers, and faculty they are supposed to serve.”

On Monday a group of 60 faculty members stated, “As faculty of the University of California, Davis, we write to express our support of and appreciation for the actions being taken by the UC Davis students who are currently occupying the 5th floor of Mrak Hall. These students are taking a firm stand in defending their belief that the administration should be held accountable to the public and that university affairs should be more transparent than they currently are. The students’ actions represent a revitalization of active democracy and a commitment to the proud tradition of understanding the University of California as a public good.”

They added, “We believe that our students are right on the mark in insisting on questioning the ties between the private sector and the public good and in emphasizing how these ties have been hurting them; we have been hurt by these ties as well, and in ways that directly impact our teaching and students.”

Dana Topousis on Tuesday declined further comment, instead referring the Vanguard back to Vice Chancellor Ralph Hexter’s letter from last week, where he supported the right of the students to protest, but expressed concerns with the tactics of the protest which he said “presents a number of further challenges.”

He stated, “A significant number of correspondents have challenged our restrained response to a significant ongoing disruption and violations of campus regulations and policies. To them and to all let me say that we do not condone and have never condoned such disruptions or violations. We have, quite deliberately, so far elected not to initiate disciplinary proceedings in the hope that the students will yet choose to enter into dialogue with the chancellor, an option she has repeatedly offered.”

However, while the chancellor has repeatedly apologized for her role in the controversy, the broader issues seem only to have been scratched at on the surface.

From our standpoint, things seem notably different from 2011 in the aftermath of the pepper spraying.  As much as the Vanguard and other media organizations were critical of the university and diligent in following up on leads – the university was very cooperative.  There were clearly things that the university was not willing to release, but they assigned Barry Schiller as a spokesperson who was easy and excellent to work with and the staff was very timely in their response to numerous records requests.

That does not appear to be happening now.  As explosive as the situation was in 2011 and early 2012, the university seems far more guarded now.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Share:

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

24 thoughts on “Commentary: Turns Out UCD Had Something to Hide”

  1. Barack Palin

    UCD is in competition with other schools to attract students.  I don’t think cleaning up UCD’s image is the high crimes and misdemeanors that some would like to make it out to be.  Now if that money was spent solely on cleaning up Katehi’s image I could see the problem.

     

    1. The Pugilist

      There were no general attacks on UC Davis – it was about Pike and Katehi and they spent $5 million-plus on messaging, that’s ridiculous.  People complain about Katehi’s salary, they spent more than 12 times her salary on damage control.

    2. VG

      UC wants to “sweep their dirt under the rug”, but that action backfired. This just hit the news as far as Russia! http://sputniknews.com/us/20160415/1038037079/uc-davis-pepper-spray.html

      Student protesters are a far cry of “Berkeley in 60s” which is what they may want to be. Those in 60s had brains and could see the larger picture unlike the petty protest at UCD.

      First, Linda Katehi bears no responsibility for “spraying of students”. He works for a corrupt institution and she is “following orders” (we heard that before). Her boss order her to have student dispersed, as the other campuses obediently followed, and she passed this order to the police. She did not tell them to pepper-spray them, nor would she. Students should look at the UC boss (“police chief” Napolitano that issued those orders (though it was not her at the time)) – Not Katehi. She is just a good soldier in an organization with unclean hands.

      Corruption? Does anyone want to look at what Vanderhoof was doing during his 20 years – “Chancellor for Life” tenure. This is how the system becomes corrupt to the core. Katehi, if anything has cleaned up UC Davis from some of those. I bet all they are getting back at her. This is not a spontaneous student protest. Someone is directing it and UC Davis mafia is good at that.

  2. Tia Will

    “Launch an aggressive and comprehensive online campaign to eliminate the negative search results for UC Davis and the Chancellor through strategic modifications to existing and future content and generating original content as needed,” as well as eradication of references to the pepper spray incident in search results on Google for the university and the Chancellor.”

    This quote from the PR company made me wonder if Chancellor Katehi or any of the administration team involved in the hiring of this firm had read George Orwell’s “1984”.  While promoting the most positive image of UCD and it’s chancellor is well within the purview of a public relations campaign, attempting to silence by removal, the opinions of others is not and I would never, never support the use of public funds in this way.

    I believe that I have attempted to be very circumspect in my assessment of Chancellor Katehi. While others called for her removal after the pepper spray incident, I was willing to give her another chance. As I watched her deliberate actions to privatize the university, I kept hoping that the good would outweigh the bad. Even with the current scandal over her board memberships and choice to augment her own wealth rather than using these funds for enhancing the educational opportunities for California residents, I advocated for her resignation, but not for firing her.

    If Chancellor Katehi was aware of the intent of this private firm to remove existing content on the internet which cast her in an unfavorable light, this is a game changer for me. This action is so antithetical to the nature of a university whose mission is to educate and presumably foster free thought and exploration of ideas which may be contrary to one’s own that I can see no option but to remove her. This would optimally be done by resignation so that she might save some face and some opportunity for employment where she clearly belongs….namely in the private sector…..but by firing if necessary.

  3. Tia Will

    An open suggestion to the protestors. If you have not yet done so, draft a letter to Ms. Napolitano highlighting this information and again requesting the removal of Chancellor Katehi in light of this new information.

  4. Alan Miller

    This is Big S–t.

    Katehi defenders you are wrong.

    Katehi is going down, just like O.J. went down years later ‘not’ for the murder, Katehi will go down years later, ‘not’ for the Pepper Spraying.

    Karma’s a B—

  5. Misanthrop

    Heard Katehi get ripped hard and every which way on the radio this morning while driving. Had to check the station. It was KGO, 100,000 watts out of San Francisco. I put it on last night to listen to the warriors game while I was driving. Its the biggest signal on the West Coast. They nailed her on using public funds for censorship but then questioned if it was public funds because it might have come from out of state tuition money from students who took seats from in state students.

    I don’t know if she survives or not but she is damaged badly and the University community is divided and that in itself is damaging to the institution. She has survived because of her fund raising prowess but you must wonder if the money will dry up at some point. If it does she is toast. Even if she can keep the money flowing you must wonder if UC will stand by her in the face of all this bad press, history of errors, allowing the most full pay out of state students in of any UC, over spending on damage control, taking money from textbook companies, protestors running amok and legislators with specific oversight of UC calling for her resignation. The wolves are circling, the sharks smell blood in the water. If I was to bet on it I wouldn’t bet on her being here to give her big beginning of the school year speech in the fall.

  6. Anon

    “It is troubling that the administration chose to spend scarce public dollars and to nearly double its PR budget when tuition soared, course offerings were slashed and California resident students were being shut out,” said Assemblymember Kevin McCarty. “These findings just raise more questions about university priorities.”

    Again, UC’s actions and that of UCD Chancellor Katehi give the state the reasons they need to lower funding to the UC system.  UC has only itself to blame for shooting itself in the foot.

  7. CalAg

    Here’s a link to the news article in the Sac Bee:
    http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article71659992.html

    I’m pretty sure Katehi does not survive this. It’s clearly time for her to go (and I was a fan until the latest round of scandals). Hopefully the departure will be soon, so the institution can start to move forward in a more positive environment.

    The reason I’m posting on this thread is to point out that this will have a much more significant impact on the economic development future of Davis than our “dispersed innovation strategy” or the ultimate land use decisions on Nishi and MRIC. Hopefully the arrival of new leadership will be positive, but you never know.

    Same for the student housing crisis.

      1. CalAg

        “in this …”

        In what? UCD is the Katehi show. If you think otherwise, you’re misinformed. Case in point, she’s replaced every single Dean – some by attrition and some were forced out.

        The big question is whether the new Chancellor adopts Katehi’s regionalist strategy or focuses more on collocation/synergy on the main campus. The big Davis opportunity is the World Food Center (assuming her replacement does a better job of execution than Katehi).

        1. The Pugilist

          I disagree.  My experience with the Chancellor and from what I have heard is that they usually do not allow the Chancellor to be alone in meetings because they are afraid that she can’t say no to requests.

          You say she has replaced every single Dean, but she personally or she with her handlers?

          I don’t think she’s the one running the boat here.  She’s certainly not managing the day to day operations of the university.

        2. CalAg

          Katehi is the CEO, Hexter is the COO. She has the final say on all the big policy decisions and has replaced all the Deans with friendlies. She’s also got plenty of loyalists in the administration. Like all CEO’s of billion dollar organizations, much of what “she does” runs through her surrogates.

          It’s time for her to step down. Hopefully, the next Chancellor will be more Davis-centric and willing to engage enthusiastically on economic development and student housing.

          The home run scenario is that UCD provides on-campus student housing, Davis provides housing for faculty, staff, and workforce, and the UCD/Davis partnership does everything it can to promote technology transfer, economic development, and a robust private technology sector that synergizes with the university – plus a high quality of life for everyone.

        3. Alan Miller

          The home run scenario is that UCD provides on-campus student housing, Davis provides housing for faculty, staff, and workforce, and the UCD/Davis partnership does everything it can to promote technology transfer, economic development, and a robust private technology sector that synergizes with the university – plus a high quality of life for everyone.

          And less orange.

  8. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    > But the figures published by the Bee show “the strategic

    > communications budget increased from $2.93 million in

    > 2009 to $5.47 million in 2015.

    All we need is 144 more (less qualified) out of state students (at $38K a pop) to cover the $5.47mm.

    P.S. We will need another 125 out of state students to pay $4.75mm to the family of a (pre-med student) that didn’t know NCAA division 1 football teams had “strenuous workouts”…

    http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/UC-pays-4-75M-in-suit-over-Cal-football-player-7248274.php

      1. South of Davis

        Misanthrop wrote:

        > I think you have made an overly simplistic and

        > glib retort to a sad and more complex story.

        It is a sad story and it is complex (I think letting a kid play American Football is child abuse), I’m just trying to point out that UC will toss millions around like it was nothing while letting in more and more (less qualified) out of state kids so less and less (more qualified) kids in California are stuck with $200K in student loans to go to “public” colleges in OR, AZ or CO.

  9. ssc

    Out, damned spot! out, I say! What, will these hands ne’er be clean?

    Arrogance, Nepotism, Greed, Manipulation, Infamy … what else are the UC Regents waiting for before they will act?

     

  10. ecotect

    Paying so much money to scrub the internet is not being transparent. If not guilty, why the shame?  Some things just cannot be erased and this is one of them.  Easy money for the “consultants” hired to do this.  Executive judgement with this action is quite questionable.

    The background of the head of the World Food Center was scrubbed too – apparently there was a desire to be non-transparent about heavy-duty ties to Monsanto.

    What starts at the top trickles down the hierarchy, department by department, all colleges and schools. You can be assured there are other unethical actions and intrigues and lack of transparency.

    Cleaning house, becoming transparent and starting an interdisciplinary collaborative integration of all would transform UCD into a top university.  Having this spill over to integrate with the city in the same manner would be stellar.  This would put Davis on the map in a much more positive way.

    My dream would be to see the City become a living laboratory for the University to partner in making it the most ecologically balanced, leading edge renewable net zero energy city with innovative transportation and top organic food & farming city in America.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for