UPDATED: University of California Davis chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi has issued an apology following reports that the school paid more than a $100,000 to have all their bad press surrounding the infamous 2011 pepper-spraying incident erased from the Internet.
"The university's identity has been shaken by a series of highly publicized missteps," Katehi said in a statement released Monday amid demands for her resignation. "Some were my own doing. All occurred under my watch. For that, I sincerely apologize."
According to Raw Story, Katehi claims that the university “hired outside firms specializing in what is known as ‘search engine optimization’” to improve the school’s image.
She reportedly said they wanted people who searched for information about the university to get a “complete picture” of its accomplishments and accolades.
By scrubbing all of the negative history from the Internet, they would not truly be offering a “complete picture” at all. They would only be providing a favorable perspective that works to their advantage which would make Katehi’s excuse null and void.
"In hindsight, we should have been more careful in reviewing some of the more unrealistic and ridiculous scope-of-work claims in the written proposals of our outside vendors," Katehi said. "What might be accepted industry hyperbole in the private public relations world falls far beneath the high standards of a public institution of higher learning."
Katehi's statement also claims they never intended to "erase online content or rewrite history" by hiring the outside firms. She said the school has actually implemented a series of reforms such as an "overhaul" of its police department following the highly-publicized pepper-spraying incident.
It is completely unsurprising that Katehi would speak out against the original reports that revealed UC Davis' shady practices and defend their actions. It's in her best interest to do damage control as calls for her resignation loom over her career.
University of California, Davis recently pulled a sneaky stunt to clean up its online reputation in regards to a 2011 incident in which officers pepper-sprayed student protesters.
The incident was heavily publicized when it first happened and of course, it was all over the Internet. The school received an influx of negative publicity and criticism. There were even calls for the resignation of Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.
According to Boingboing, The Sacramento Bee revealed that the university contracted with SEO consultants for $175,000 or more to bury all of the unfavorable online coverage on the situation. The deal also involved boosting the online reputations of the school and Katehi.
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UC Davis purportedly first contracted with Maryland-based Nevins & Associates — a “reputation management firm” — back in 2013. The university entered a six-month contract with the company and paid out $15,000 each month. Additional contracts with similar firms followed.
The Sacramento Bee obtained documents outlining the university’s expenditures following a request filed last month under the California Public Records Act.
UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis claims the money for the consultants came from the Communications department budget. “We have worked to ensure that the reputation of the university, which the chancellor leads, is fairly portrayed,” she said.
“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,” she added.
Topousis’ explanation sounds like a sugar-coated excuse for their sneaky behavior. If students are to make informed decisions about where to pursue higher education, they have a right to know the good, the bad, and the ugly. Scrubbing the web history doesn’t change the fact that it happened.
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Shame on them for thinking they could just quietly erase history to better appeal to the public.
Sacramento public affairs consultant Doug Elmets summed it up nicely:
“I would say that it is common for an individual who might be applying for a job or an individual who has been wrongly maligned to go to a company like Reputation.com, but for a public university that is funded through taxpayer funds, who has repeatedly stepped into a vast hole, it is surprising that they thought this could be done without the light of day shining on the act. It is one more example of how out of touch the leadership at UC Davis is when it comes to their public perspective.”