Student Association: UC Davis Chancellor Should Resign Over Search-Engine Scandal

The attempt by UC Davis to hire reputation management firms to hide from online searchers a 2011 image of a police officer pepper-spraying protesters at the school appears to have backfired. Now the University of California Student Association is calling for Chancellor Linda Katehi to leave her post.

UC Davis’ attempts to blunt the impact of one of the most notable news photos taken in 2011 were ultimately unsuccessful.

But the revelations that the school even attempted to scrub the unflattering story from Google are putting pressure on UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi to be removed from her post.

Leading the charge is the University of California Student Association (UCSA), which voted to call for Katehi’s resignation or firing as a result of the university’s move to spend $175,000 on reputation-management services in an effort to effectively hide the photo from online search results. The photo showed a UC Davis campus police officer pepper-spraying a number of students taking part in an Occupy protest at the school.

Even though the effort failed, the fact that the school even attempted to hide the photo was extremely questionable, argued UCSA President Kevin Sabo.

“The pepper-spray incident shaped student protest and campus response for the last five years,” Sabo said in a statement posted on Facebook after the vote. “Chancellor Katehi abdicated responsibility, but still felt it was necessary to initiate an impossible hunt to save her reputation.

“This is not a lapse in judgment, but a pattern of Katehi’s blatant disregard of her responsibility as a UC leader.”

The move is one of many taken in response to the controversial tactic by the school, which was first reported by the Sacramento Bee last week. The school worked with at least two firms in an attempt to move the photo further down the search results on Google and other sites, in favor of more positive information about the university.

The university has defended the strategy, which it said was paid for out of the school’s communications budget.

“These stories mischaracterize the facts. The campus hired outside consultants, using no public or student funds, to optimize search engine results in order to highlight the achievements of our students, faculty and staff,” UC Davis Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph Hexter wrote in a letter acquired by The Davis Vanguard.

The latest scandal isn’t the only one circling Katehi. Critics have also questioned her decision to take lucrative positions on corporate boards, including that of textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons, while also serving as school chancellor.

“Katehi is collecting a $425,000 salary, ample compensation given the fact that students on her campus desperately need resources like affordable housing, crisis food intervention, mental health support, and financial aid,” Sabo added.

A University of California Davis police officer pepper-sprays students during a November 2011 protest. (Brian Nguyen/Reuters)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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