UC Davis spent a lot of money trying to scrub pepper spray from online search results after peaceful protesters were pepper-sprayed in the face—only to generate more pepper-spray headlines for the institution. Documents obtained by the Sacramento Bee reveal that the university paid "reputation management" experts Nevins & Associates $15,000 a month for a campaign to "clean up" the "venomous rhetoric" directed at UC Davis and Chancellor Linda Katehi after the 2011 incident. Other companies were also paid to improve the university's online image, using a strategic communications budget that almost doubled, to $5.47 million, in the six years after Katehi became chancellor in 2009.
The company, which was paid nearly $100,000 through July 2013, gave UC Davis a proposal for "eradication of references to the pepper spray incident in search results on Google," with strategies including a "surge of content with positive sentiment." Experts say such efforts to bury bad press tend to backfire. "It's inconceivable that they thought this was either a good idea or something that wasn't going to be seen or recognized eventually," a PR expert tells CBS Sacramento. Katehi is already the target of sit-ins calling for her resignation over her acceptance of seats on the corporate boards of a textbook publisher and a for-profit university, the Bee notes. (The campus cop who pepper-sprayed the student protesters was awarded $38,000 in workers' compensation.)