For months the Sacramento Bee has been breaking important news stories about Chancellor Katehi, ranging from her board work for the DeVry educational institute, her work on the board of Wiley & Sons textbook company, and of course the infamous pepper spray scrubbing contract. These stories play an integral role in the investigation and paid administrative leave, and the call for her resignation by student protesters and lawmakers.
But defenders are starting to accuse the Sacramento newspaper of piling it on. This week’s story reports that the chancellor sent officials overseas and across the country to learn image-boosting techniques.
On Wednesday, the Bee reported, “Last November, as UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi was searching for ways to improve the university’s online image, she dispatched staff to companies in Switzerland, Texas and Maryland to study their digital operations.
“The trips cost more than $17,000 in airfare, lodging and other expenses, according to travel records and emails released to The Sacramento Bee on Wednesday in response to a May 5 California Public Records Act request. The visit to Switzerland by three members of the team came after Katehi visited Nestlé’s Digital Acceleration Lab in June 2015 in Vevey, Switzerland, on the shores of Lake Geneva, records indicate.”
The article quotes from a September 13 email where Ms. Katehi wrote, “This gave me an idea to create a similar lab at UC Davis, primarily to help us accelerate our understanding and use of social media in communicating internally and externally and in understanding how UC Davis is perceived both in California but in the U.S. and around the world.
“We have started the process of putting the team together that will create the lab together,” Ms. Katehi added. “We will tremendously benefit if we could send two or three of our people for a day’s visit to your lab so they can get an idea of how it is set up and how the training programs are in place.”
Lee Houskeeper, an advisor, sent out a response on Friday, arguing, “For months it has appeared that the Sacramento Bee has become a partisan in the matter of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. The paper’s often one-sided and breathless reporting of issues with zero real news in them is something we hear about from a lot of people.”
He argued, “If you have any remaining doubts about the Bee’s squishy objectivity, look at its reporting today and yesterday on how Chancellor Katehi led the creation of a Digital Acceleration Lab at UC Davis.”
Pressing on, he argues that the Bee has failed “to grasp the realities of social media and to harness its power to connect with new audiences,” to which he attributes the Bee’s “plummeting circulation.”
“Linda Katehi was not going to let UC Davis make that same mistake,” he continues.” As an accomplished engineer and academic, she has long understood that social media is the way people communicate today and will communicate exclusively tomorrow. She and members of the faculty sought to create a world class Digital Accelerator Center at UC Davis to benefit faculty, staff and students. Having a social media training center on the campus will keep Davis competitive and on the leading edge of research – whether that’s in food science or political science.”
He argues, “So what did she do? She set out to learn more from the companies who have advanced Digital Accelerators – Nestle, Marriott, and Dell. She publicly reported on these trips and as an added bonus met with the CEO of Nestle – an important partner for one of the world’s largest schools of food, agriculture, and nutrition.”
“Digital Accelerator,” he would argue, is an emerging field where many companies have developed means to respond online to a rapidly changing communications environment.
However, Mr. Houskeeper argues that the Bee has attempted to spin this into a negative story and a conspiracy.
He notes that the Bee headlined its story this week as follows:
UC Davis chancellor sent aides to Switzerland to learn image-boosting tactics
- University spent more than $17,000 on trips to Switzerland, Texas and Maryland
- Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi wanted to build digital acceleration lab at UC Davis
- Under Katehi, UCD strategic communications budget went from $2.93 million to $5.47 million
“Image boosting tactics? Please. Can the Luddite editors at the Bee at least try to see the difference between ‘Mad Men’ era spin and fundamental, DNA-level changes in communications and research? The snarky claim of ‘image-boosting’ says more about the Bee’s mindset than Linda Ketehi’s,” he argues.
“$17,000? Doesn’t seem like a lot for a $4 billion organization like UC Davis to spend on core digital fact-finding from the masters of the game,” he continues. “A $5.47 million strategic communications budget? Actually, paltry for a leading university dealing with a huge volume of communications initiatives and more than a few crises. Did the Bee even bother to see what other UCs spend on communications, to put UCD’s budget in context?
“And here’s the icing on the cake,” he stated. “The UC Office of the President (UCOP), which soldiers forth on its compromised investigation of Chancellor Katehi, released these documents on travel to Switzerland etc to the Bee without the courtesy of sharing them with Chancellor Katehi or her team. We’ve said all along that the UCOP is playing games with the release of public information to stack the deck against the Chancellor.”
Mr. Houskeeper and Ms. Katehi’s legal team believe there will be more of these type of stories that they call “squishy,” with “zero real news in them.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting