Documents obtained by The Sacramento Bee reveal that the University of California, Davis spent $175,000 to erase references to a November 2011 video that captured the pepper-spraying of students. A particular still, which shows a helmeted police officer pepper spraying a line of sitting, peaceful protesters, went viral and became synonymous with unequal power structures that underpinned the Occupy protests—much to the university’s chagrin, apparently.
In the aftermath, the university spent thousands to clean up both its online image, as well as that of Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi. Following the 2011 pepper-spray incident, Katehi defended the officer’s actions, telling the media that there had been “no option,” since the student protestors refused requests to move. According to the Bee, some of UC Davis’s payments were made with the intent:
[...] Of improving 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.”
Other payments were directed towards retooling the university’s social media efforts as well as developing a new communications plan. In short, the budget for the strategic communication office has increased nearly $2.5 million since Katehi was hired in 2009.
In 2013, Katehi’s office contracted a Maryland-based company called Nevins & Associates for a six-month contract that costs $15,000 a month. Nevins was brought in to “clean up the negative attention,” ostensibly by removing, or lowering, Google references to the video. The online reputation management service promised “an aggressive and comprehensive online campaign to eliminate the negative search results for UC Davis and the Chancellor.”
The $175,000 expenditure proved to be an absolute waste of administrative funds. The Bee reports that a search for “UC Davis pepper spray” produced 100,000 results at publication time; since publication, those same search terms now produce 119,000 results. Fixing Katehi’s online image has also been fruitless, particularly since UC Davis students renewed their calls for her firing in March. UC Davis’ student newspaper, The California Aggie, reports that students started the “Fire Katehi” campaign after a separate Bee report showed that the chancellor accepted paid board positions from two for-profit companies, including textbook company Wiley and Sons.
California Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, who chairs the Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance, told the Bee that the PR expenditures were “troubling,” particularly as “tuition soared, course offerings were slashed and California resident students were being shut out.”
Screenshot via Youtube.