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 payments were made as the university was trying to boost its image online and were among several contracts issued following the pepper-spray incident.
“We have worked to ensure that the reputation of the university, which the chancellor leads, is fairly portrayed,” said UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis. “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.”
Money to pay the consultants came from the communications department budget, Topousis said.
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.
“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,” said Doug Elmets, a Sacramento public affairs consultant. “It is one more example of how out of touch the leadership at UC Davis is when it comes to their public perspective.”
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