The University of California, Davis paid consultants $175,000 to manipulate the school's Google results and remove hits regarding an on-campus officer pepper-spraying a group of students in 2011 -- but the move actually drew attention to the incident, and now the university's chancellor is apologizing.
Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi released a statement and compatible video on Monday, in which she said she was sorry for her role in hiring people to make it harder to find photos, videos and memes of an officer using military-grade pepper spray on students who were sitting on the ground as part of a protest.
"The university’s identity has been shaken by a series of highly publicized missteps. Some were my own doing. All occurred under my watch. For that, I sincerely apologize," Katehi wrote. "Yes, our Office of Strategic Communications hired outside firms specializing in what is known as 'search engine optimization.' Consultants were brought in after the highly regrettable 2011 incident when campus police used pepper spray on peacefully protesting students."
Those missteps have been a public relations nightmare for the school. The officer involved in the incident became the subject of Internet memes, and the school paid him $38,000 in workers compensation after he received thousands of threats. The university also paid nearly $1 million to 21 students in a settlement.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) said earlier this month that the chancellor should step down, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Students are still calling for Katehi's resignation. Emily Breuninger is one of several students who this week ended a five-week sit-in outside the chancellor's office. They still want Katehi to leave her post and provide proof that none of the consulting fees came out of the student tuition budget or state general fund, Breuninger said.
"We don’t accept her apology whatsoever," Breuninger told The Huffington Post. "It’s disingenuous, and we don’t accept the explanation for why they did it. We also find it shady that [Katehi] says the money for the consultants didn’t come from government funds or tuition, and we're calling for more information."
UC Davis has increased its communications budget by $1.6 million since 2009, which includes $800,000 for training employees on social media and videography. Katehi wrote that "none of the costs for consultants or the advertising campaign were paid from state General Fund appropriations or student tuition and fees."
"In hindsight, we should have been more careful in reviewing some of the more unrealistic and ridiculous scope-of-work claims in the written proposals of our outside vendors," Katehi wrote. "What might be accepted industry hyperbole in the private public relations world falls far beneath the high standards of a public institution of higher learning."
Tuition is, after all, the crux of the issue. The students who were pepper-sprayed in 2011 were protesting tuition hikes.