DAVIS (AP) — The University of California, Davis contracted with consultants for at least $175,000 to clean its online reputation following the November 2011 pepper-spraying of student protesters on campus, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
Documents the Sacramento Bee obtained through a California Public Records Act request show some payments were made in hopes of eliminating negative search results for the school and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.
Others sought to come up with a new plan for the UC Davis strategic communications office and improve its use of social media.
"We have worked to ensure that the reputation of the university, which the chancellor leads, is fairly portrayed," said 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."
The newspaper said that the documents reflect an effort to counteract negative publicity that arose after the Nov. 18, 2011, pepper-spraying of student protesters by campus police, which gained nationwide attention. 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.
Under Katehi, who became chancellor in 2009, the university has substantially increased its strategic communications budget from $2.93 million the year the embattled chancellor took over to $5.47 million in 2015.
Katehi has more recently been under fire for joining the boards of a textbook publisher and a for-profit university.
In January 2013, UC Davis hired the Maryland-based Nevins & Associates, founded by David Nevins, a former chairman of the Maryland Board of Regents, to find ways to remove the 2011 incident from Internet searches, the newspaper reported.
"Nevins & Associates is prepared to create and execute an online branding campaign designed to clean up the negative attention the University of California, Davis, and Chancellor Katehi have received related to the events that transpired in November 2011," a six-page proposal from Nevins promised.
"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," it said.
Nevins' office said Wednesday he would not comment on the contract.
The following year, the university contracted with Sacramento-based ID Media Partners to "achieve a reasonable balance of positive natural search results on common terms concerning UC Davis and Chancellor Katehi."
The firm, which does business under the name IDMLOCO, was awarded two more contracts in 2015 to integrate a social media program "for executive communications" and to assess the University's Strategic Communications redesign.
IDMLOCO co-founders Matt Eagan and Bryan Merica, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
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