UC Davis Invested $175K to Improve Online Image

Public relations firms were hired to dilute negative online content about the university and its chancellor.

The University of California Davis has spent at least $175,000 on online campaigns aimed at improving the school’s image following a controversial incident in 2011.

The campaign was an attempt to improve the online images of both the school and university Chancellor Linda Katehi after videos went viral of a university police officer pepper spraying student protesters who were part of the Occupy movement.

The university faced criticism for what was characterized by students as the indiscriminant use of the pepper spray on peaceful protesters. UC Davis later settled with 21 students and alumni who sued the school. A video of the incident is included below this article.

Hiring consultants and PR firms, the university hoped to minimize and alter negative search results and add more positive online content, according to the LA Times.

Records obtained by the Sacramento Bee show PR firm IDMLOCO was given three separate contracts worth up to $246,000 to create a “comprehensive search engine results management strategy” and an “integrated social media program for executive communications,” among other services.

University officials said in a statement the payments were part of a communications strategy designed to ensure the school’s “important services to the state is not lost during a campus crisis, including the crisis that ensued following the extremely regrettable incident when police pepper-sprayed student protesters in 2011.”

Cell phone videos of the incident sparked public outcry and led some people to call for Chancellor Katehi’s resignation. A university review of the incident concluded that the pepper spraying violated policy and refuted university police claims that the protesters posed a violent threat.

One state assembly member, Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) called for Katehi to resign following the disclosure of the PR expenditures.

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