Former UC Davis Chancellor Katehi Way More Obsessed With Her Online Reputation Than Initially Thought

from the get-me-off-the-google dept

Earlier this year, we discussed how UC Davis detailed in a report that it spent $175k with a reputation management firm to try bury the 2011 pepper-spraying incident that has become so infamous, as well as to bolster the positive reputation and search results of its former Chancellor, Linda Katehi. While Katehi was still Chancellor, she had issued something of a mea culpa that was unfortunately riddled with excuse-making and vendor-blaming, but in which she also appeared to take responsibility for the report’s contents. Students protested anyway, as they should have, given how the report detailed that Katehi was far more interested in her own reputation online than she was in any kind of reform of campus police. Which, if you’ll remember, was what kicked off all of the negative reporting starting in 2011 to begin with.

But now a new report has been issued that makes it clear that the $175k with the one reputation management vendor was just the tip of the iceberg, and that Katehi’s obsession with her own online reputation was far more serious than anyone had known. Indeed, her attempts to meddle in her own online search results started long before the 2011 pepper-spraying incident.

When she was appointed chancellor, news accounts questioned her tenure at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was provost and allegations emerged that children of politically influential backers were given preference in admissions. Katehi denied knowing anything about those admissions. The report found that she was so concerned she would be tainted by the scandal that she called an aide at UC Davis, whose name was redacted from documents, and asked him to take quick action.

“Though Chancellor Katehi was on vacation, she contacted and asked him to edit her Wikipedia page concerning her knowledge of the Illinois admissions scandal,” the report found. “(The aide) advised the Chancellor that they should not edit her online biography because Wikipedia would attribute any edits to UC Davis. Staff made the revisions under protest.”

In 2011, after a campus officer strolled past a line of seated protesting students and calmly unloaded a pepper spray can directly at them, the ensuing backlash was met by Katehi primarly with an expanded effort to control what the wider internet thought of her. While the initial reporting indicated a single vendor had been paid $175k on Katehi’s request to try to control messaging about the school and herself through a barrage of good, but trumped up, press, UC Davis actually hired three different reputation management firms to do this, all to the tune of over $400k. And she appears to have been more concerned with her own reputation than that of the school she was to be stewarding.

Katehi and her staff sought out firms on the East Coast and in Sacramento, meeting with them and discussing how to create a webpage, edit Wikipedia posts and submit op-eds under her name to publications that might crowd out negative press from others. The report noted that improving Katehi’s reputation also would improve that of the university’s. But documents show that she constantly sought help in what one aide recalled as her desire that they “get me off the Google.”

“Linda wants to understand generally how we plan to address the lingering negative pepper spray-related online search content associated with her name,” reads a September 2012 email from Barry Shiller, who was brought in after the pepper-spray incident to handle her communications strategy.

All three firms eventually hired by UC Davis at Katehi’s request promised to bury the 2011 incident through editing in positive content to the Wikipedia pages of Katehi and the school, by creating a brand new website bearing Katehi’s name and filled with positive coverage, and to create “listening reports” to detail any news coverage that mentioned her or the school so that coverage could be further addressed by the outside reputation consultant. Included in all of this was an investigation into those who were creating negative edits on these pages. What Katehi intended to do with that information is unclear, but it hardly seems like the information could be used for anything but retribution.

It goes without saying that as we, the link above, and several other online media outlets are discussing these revelations, and placing them alongside the original 2011 incident for context, the work of the three vendors and the nearly half a million dollars paid to them has failed. Reputation management of this sort rarely works. And when it blows up, as it usually does, the cover-up is always viewed as even more horrendous than the original crime, which is now thrust back into public discussion.

And this was really easier than making an honest apology and trying to reform campus police abuse?

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: uc davis, wikipedia

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Former UC Davis Chancellor Katehi Way More Obsessed With Her Online Reputation Than Initially Thought”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Fool and her (or someone's) money

Well considering the blowback she is getting now, I would say that a deaf and blind monkey that does nothing but throwing its own feces at people, while carrying a sign around its neck that said “Courtesy of Katehi Way – Former UC Davis Chancellor”, could do better than these 3 companies.

Give me 10k and I would spend it all having fun while doing absolutely nothing and it would be leagues better than what she paid 500k for.

I.T. Guy says:

“And this was really easier than making an honest apology and trying to reform campus police abuse?”
Didn’t matter. She could give 2 shits about Police abuse or the kids they physically assaulted for nonviolent protest. It was more important that she look good. Definitely not the person you want in that position.

Looking at her… I am not surprised.

Rep management huh… Linda? How’d that work out for ya?

Anonymous Coward says:

As usual, Linda Katehi will now be permanently linked with UC Davis Pepper Spray, botched reputation management, and gross misuse of public funds, whether any of that is true or not.

I really don’t see how reputation management firms can get away with this sort of thing, pocket the money, and leave their customers to deal with the consequences.

David says:


The moment I contact an online reputation management site, I would expect whatever situation I might have been experiencing to get a lot more severe while negotiations are still ongoing.

Those companies are eager to provide a successful improvement to bill for, and the easiest improvements are on the kind of havoc you organized yourself.

And once you have identified a potential customer, you’ll make it a habit to inflate all future smears in order to be able to provide good improvements.

I mean, this is like an announcement “I’m an easy target for extortion, your place or mine?”.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...