UC Davis focused on web image after pepper spraying


A California university has paid consultants at least $175,000 to counteract the effects of negative Internet posts about the school and its chancellor after campus police sparked outrage in 2011 by pepper-spraying student protesters, the Sacramento Bee reported on Wednesday.

The university has since confirmed that it tried to improve its reputation following the pepper-spraying scandal.

"We have worked to ensure that the reputation of the university, which the chancellor leads, is fairly portrayed", said UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis. The money went to public relations firms that promised to clean up the university's search results.

She was in charge when campus security officer Lt. John Pike was filmed and photographed calmly walking along a row of peacefully seated Occupy protesters, blasting each one in the face with pepper spray, in November 2011.

The police response prompted massive protests on campus, which gained national media attention and ignited a debate about police brutality and use of excessive force against peaceful protesters. The Bee said that fallout continued for more than a year, as investigations and lawsuits played out and spawned criticism of UC Davis and demands that Katehi resign.

"Advise and support UC Davis' adoption of Google platforms to expedite the eradication of references to the pepper spray incident in search results on Google for the university and the Chancellor".

Nevins & Associates agreed to help scrub records of the incident from Google search results and consult with the schools chancellor on "brand enhancement", according to the report. UC President Janet Napolitano has said Katehi made mistakes - such as taking the DeVry seat without permission from Napolitano - but that she has been a good chancellor who should remain at UC Davis. The company was hired to "design and execute a comprehensive search engine results management strategy".

She confirmed that the money came from the Communications Department's budget.

Additionally, the Wikipedia page for UC Davis features the incident prominently.

Members of the Facebook group Fire Katehi were upset by news of the Google scrubbing contract.

"If there's something bad out there", he said, "the first thing to do is to stop looking at it". But erasing history by manipulating technology isn't the way to do that, especially when it comes to the history behind an educational institution, especially one as famous and storied as UC Davis.

To fix its negative image, UC Davis signed a six-month contract with Nevins in 2013 for $15,000 per month up to $99,000.

Representatives for the school could not be immediately reached for comment.


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