UC Davis Spent Over $175K to Hide Pepper-Spraying Search Results on Google

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In an attempt to minimize the negative publicity surrounding the November 2011 pepper-spraying of nonviolent students, UC Davis paid public relations consultants more than $175,000 to reduce search results of the notorious incident on Google and YouTube. Although consultants were paid to improve the deteriorating reputations of UC Davis and Chancellor Linda Katehi, newly released documents confirm the administration nearly doubled its PR budget while drastically raising tuition.

On the afternoon of November 18, 2011, campus police Lt. John Pike was caught on video pepper-spraying multiple unarmed students directly in their faces as they sat on the ground peacefully protesting during the Occupy movement. After receiving more than 17,000 angry or threatening emails and 10,000 text messages, Pike was awarded $38,055 less than two years later for his mental anguish.

According to a recent Sacramento Bee investigation, documents recently released under the California Public Records Act revealed that UC Davis hired a Maryland company called Nevins & Associates in January 2013, and paid them $15,000 per month over a six-month contract. The contract also included consultation services from David Nevins, founder and president of Nevins & Associates, to enhance the reputations of UC Davis and Chancellor Katehi.

The contract states, “Online evidence and the venomous rhetoric about UC Davis and the Chancellor are being filtered through the 24-hour news cycle, but it is at a tepid pace. Our campaign will expedite this process through strategic placement of online content and an increased adoption of Google platforms that will serve to specifically target viral content found on YouTube and in search results on Google.”

Including the travel and lodging expenses for Nevins associate Molly White, the university ended up paying Nevins & Associates $92,970.73 through July 2013. Less than a year later, UC Davis hired Sacramento-based ID Media Partners (aka IDMLOCO) in an $82,500 contract to manipulate search engine results and social media.

“We have worked to ensure that the reputation of the university, which the chancellor leads, is fairly portrayed,” stated 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.”

At least four state legislators have recently called for Katehi’s resignation after learning that she posed a conflict of interest by accepting paid corporate board seats, including a textbook publisher and a for-profit university under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission. Since March 11, students have occupied the reception area outside of Katehi’s office in a sit-in scheduled to last until she resigns.

“It is troubling that the administration chose to spend scarce public dollars and to nearly double its PR budget when tuition soared, course offerings were slashed and California resident students were being shut out,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, who chairs the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance. “These findings just raise more questions about university priorities.”

Although no students were killed during the UC Davis pepper-spraying incident, the image of law enforcement officers assaulting nonviolent protesters echoed back to scenes from Kent State University in 1970. Instead of accepting its tarnished reputation, UC Davis chose to remove as many search results of the incident as possible while continuing to increase the tuition of its students. Propagating lies of omission, UC Davis evokes bitter memories of the Chinese government removing Google references to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

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