UC mounted PR blitz to counter harsh state audit

Janet_NapolitanoUC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi was suspended by UC President Janet Napolitano in April soon after the Sacramento Bee discovered that UC Davis had paid at least $175,000 to consultants to try to remove online references to a 2011 incident in which peaceful student protesters were sprayed with tear gas by a campus police officer.

Katehi’s suspension was also spurred by allegations her son and daughter-in-law, who are employees of the university, got large and unwarranted raises. But Napolitano also made plain her disapproval of Katehi’s attempts at damage control, saying her decisions raised “serious and troubling questions.”

Now it has emerged that UC spent $158,000 in its own damage-control effort in a bid to counter the harsh criticism Napolitano and other UC officials faced after State Auditor Elaine Howle released an audit in March that said UC was admitting out-of-state students over more qualified in-state students solely for budget reasons. Howle also said UC officials sharply increased out-of-state enrollment rather than take even basic steps to control spending when state funding plunged because of the sharp decline in state revenue after 2007.

UC planned PR blitz before audit even released

UC officials first learned of Howle’s scathing audit in February. That’s when the UC Office of the President decided to mount a PR campaign that “included a report rebutting the conclusions of the audit; digital ads on websites, Facebook and Twitter; and sponsorships on public radio stations throughout the state,” the Bee reported.

An aide to Napolitano disputed the idea that state funding or tuition dollars were used. Instead, the aide told the Bee that the $158,000 came out of the “endowment cost recovery fund.” The fund was described as using endowment earnings for various purposes, including trying to promote university fundraising.

Some of the $158,000 was used to release a glossy 32-page report soon after the audit was published that depicted UC as reacting resourcefully and intelligently to the state funding crisis. Another major expenditure was for radio ads promoting UC on public radio stations around the California.

UC officials insisted there was a major difference between what Katehi did and what the UC Office of the President had done. They said that UC had followed standard processes and had used consultants for PR campaigns before, and that Napolitano had never objected to Katehi’s use of consultants — only to the evidence that Katehi had made  “material misstatements” about her role in efforts to scrub UC Davis’ online image.

But if these distinctions help UC avoid allegations of hypocrisy, the UC damage-control campaign still rankled some in the Legislature who said UC should take the audit seriously — not pay to try to gloss it over.

“I am in total disbelief once again,” Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, told the Bee. “They have taken this elitist attitude that they can do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it.”

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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