University of California, Davis, officials spent $175,000 to "clean up" the school's online reputation after the November 2011 pepper-spraying of students resulted in a barrage of negative attention.
The Sacramento Bee reported the news on Wednesday, citing documents revealed in response to requests filed last month under the California Public Records Act.
The records show that the UC Davis hired two separate firms to help improve the reputations of both the university and embattled Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.
According to the Bee:
The documents reflect an aggressive effort to counteract an avalanche of negative publicity that arose after the Nov. 18, 2011, pepper-spraying of student protesters by campus police. Fallout from that incident continued for more than a year, as investigations and lawsuits played out and spawned criticism of UC Davis and demands that Katehi resign.
In January 2013, UC Davis signed on with a Maryland company called Nevins & Associates for a six-month contract that paid $15,000 a month.
[...] The objectives Nevins outlined for the contract included “eradication of references to the pepper spray incident in search results on Google for the university and the Chancellor.”
That objective was to be achieved by advising UC Davis officials on the use of Google platforms as part of “an aggressive and comprehensive online campaign to eliminate the negative search results for UC Davis and the Chancellor.”
Footage of the interaction between student protesters and campus police can be seen below:
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As Common Dreams reported at the time, a 190-page task force report released in 2012 said the use of pepper spray was "not supported by objective evidence and not authorized by policy."
The Bee further notes:
The release of the documents comes as Katehi is once again under fire, this time for her acceptance of seats on private corporate boards, including a textbook publisher and a for-profit university that was under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission. First revealed in The Bee, her outside board positions have sparked calls for her resignation as well as student protests.
Students have occupied the reception office outside Katehi's office for more than a month in a sit-in that they say will last until Katehi resigns.
In an open letter sent Tuesday to UC system president Janet Napolitano, marking the 32nd day of the occupation, the students wrote that their protest "is about more than just seeing Linda Katehi removed from office. This is a demand for larger structural changes that democratize decision-making processes and re-center the well-being of the students and workers of the UC Davis community as the top priority for campus administrators."
Of the university's attempt to scrub its image, meanwhile, Boing Boing declares, "Looks like the geniuses who run UC Davis never Googled the words 'Streisand Effect.'"
The Streisand Effect—named after an incident involving Barbra Streisand, the California Coastal Records Project, and real estate photos—is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the exact opposite effect, pushing said information into the spotlight.
Indeed, Gizmodo writes: "In UC Davis's case, all that money has gone... well, not far. Googling 'UC Davis pepper spray' yields 117,000 results, and many of them aren't flattering."