Let's All Talk About The Stuff That UC Davis Spent $175k Trying To Keep Off These Internets

from the paging-babs dept

As you'll probably recall, back in late 2011 a group of UC Davis students held a protest on campus as part of the Occupy movement. The lasting memory from that protest was one UC Davis police officer casually strolling past a line of students seated in a row and cavalierly spraying pepper spray directly into their faces. Even though this happened half a decade ago, let's all talk about it again now, because UC Davis recently revealed it spent $175,000 trying to make sure we wouldn't.

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. Some payments were made in hopes 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.”

Others sought to improve the school’s use of social media and to devise a new plan for the UC Davis strategic communications office, which has seen its budget rise substantially since Katehi took the chancellor’s post in 2009. Figures released by UC Davis show the strategic communications budget increased from $2.93 million in 2009 to $5.47 million in 2015.
Those funds, spent by a public university, mind you, were spent in the wake of the pepper spraying incident specifically to reformulate the image of UC Davis by obfuscating search results, web mentions of the incident, and by crafting a deluge of other UC Davis content that was decidedly more brand-friendly. But, hey, are you still confused as to what incident we're talking about here? Maybe this video of the incident will help jog your memory.



What should be readily apparent to you by now is that trying to bury factual if unfortunate history by hiring so-called brand reputation groups works about as well as trying to cover up your inability to cook a decent meal by dumping chocolate icing on everything you make. Sure, icing is good, but you still burnt that bone-in ribeye, you fool.

More importantly, in true Streisand Effect fashion, the attempted coverup of the incident now has us all discussing it again. And not only discussing the incident, but multiplying information about the incident, and footage of it, throughout the internet.


It's probably time for at least our institutions of higher learning to understand that using reputation management companies, paying them thousands of dollars, is the least effective way to respond to a bad PR incident. Even outside PR voices are shaking their heads at UC Davis' actions.

“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.”
Interestingly, as a result of some actions taken by Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, students are once again protesting, occupying the areas around her office and insisting they won't leave until she has resigned. It should be interesting to see if the school put as much money and effort into reforming campus policing as they did in trying to cleanse the internet of its history.

Filed Under: pepper spray, reputation management, streisand effect
Companies: uc davis


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  1. identicon
    Zonker, 14 Apr 2016 @ 4:07pm

    Huffington Post reports that UC Davis spent a great deal more than just $175,000 over the pepper spray incident:
    In all, UC Davis has funneled millions toward its problem. Here’s a breakdown:

    $980,000 — In 2012, a settlement was reached to pay 21 students $30,000 each, pay $250,000 to their lawyers, and set aside an extra $100,000 in case more plaintiffs joined the class action.
    Note that more than a quarter of the funds went to the lawyers.
    $175,000 — In 2013, UC Davis hired various consultants to improve the university’s search results online and boost its image.
    What we're talking about here.
    $38,055 — Two years after the incident, Lt. Pike was awarded workers compensation for psychiatric damage.
    Lt. Pike was the pepper spray cop. Here I thought that workers compensation didn't cover preexisting conditions.
    $2,540,000 — The Bee found that the university increased its strategic communications budget from $2.93 million in 2009 to $5.47 million in 2015, in part so that the “reputation of the university is fairly portrayed.”
    Almost double your commumications budget in six years largely to improve your reputation after the pepper spray incident.
    An unknown amount of money spent while Pike and former police Chief Annette Spicuzza were on paid administrative leave.
    The officers involved were rewarded for their efforts with an all expenses paid vacation. That will put a quick end to such malfeasance by bad cops in the future.

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