Sunday, June 19, 2016

University Buries Google News





By Professor Doom

    Hey, remember when universities were only about education and research? If you do, you must have grey hair, because it’s surely been a while.

     Hey, remember when news came out, there was bad publicity for awhile, and that was it? Grey hair is no longer so necessary to remember that, because that’s how things were before the internet changed news, some 20ish years ago. Back then, if you wanted to read old bad news, you had to go to a major library, and search the newspaper stacks. Now, any black mark on an institution or person is truly permanent, just a mouse click or two away, even if the incident was years ago.

     Well, this is the case for the little guy, but if you have a few hundred thousand bucks to spend, you can hire firms to bury news articles, making them difficult to find via common search engines.

      A university really should be led by leaders with spines. If something bad happens there, a university should just own up to it, and then go back to the university business of education and research. The last thing our “leaders” in higher education should be doing is spending many thousands of dollars burying old bad publicity…I mean, these guys are constantly telling us they need to raise tuition because there’s just no money left for education, so surely there’s no money available for burying old news.

     Enough generalities. Way back in 2011, a campus cop pepper sprayed a bunch of clearly non-threatening students. It being the 21st century, it was filmed and photographed, and became a meme for police behavior in the 21st century (truth be told, I suspect this kind of behavior was quite common in prior centuries, which merely lacked widespread handheld video technology).

      This happened at UC Davis, a premier university led by the very best (and very highly paid) leaders in higher education. Wasting time and money burying this kind of story is beneath them, right?

     Har.



     I’m so embarrassed for UC Davis. There are so many horrible, horrible scandals in higher education today, and this merits their notice? I mean, if the cop was following orders from the Poo Bah, I could see it, but this was just a cop being a jerk cop jerk. UC Davis was just as much a bystander as the students, there’s no reason to cover anything up here.

      Well, unless you have a massive ego:

University documents show that the school paid public relations firms at least $175,000 to hide bad publicity on Google when people searched on the university name and the name of its chancellor, Linda Katehi, according to The Sacramento Bee, which obtained the papers.


     Isn’t it nuts the kind of power our leaders in higher education wield? Adjuncts are paid starvation wages to run courses bringing in huge amounts of money; our leaders tell us it has to be that way, because there’s no money in education to pay the adjuncts a living wage.

     But when it comes to ego, suddenly money is easily found, easily spent.

      University PR people (also paid way more than educators, for the same reasons) were quick to spin this ridiculous behavior:

"Increased investment in social media and communications strategy has heightened the profile of the university to good effect," Topousis said. She added that it's important that good news from the school "is not lost during a campus crisis, including the crisis that ensued following the extremely regrettable incident when police pepper-sprayed student protesters in 2011."


     If this were the truth, then why hire an outside PR firm? Surely over the course of years, all the good things UC Davis does should overcome this unfortunate and not particularly university-related incident? 

      That’s the thing about these lies…they destroy the good faith respect I was willing to give UC Davis earlier. How do these firms destroy news, anyway?

Such PR services, often called reputation management, generally work by flooding the Internet with positive or unrelated blog posts and other Web pages. As a result, the controversial or negative stories get pushed down to the second or third page of Google results.


     So, these guys spam the net with multiple stories, troll sites, bogus blog posts, and the like, to make it difficult for the story of the police pepper spraying students to be seen. I’ve seen similar before, but I’m still fascinated they needed to hire an outside firm to help with this.

      Oh wait. Not just one firm, but two:

But spending money on the service with two different companies led to a new headache for the school. UC Davis is a public university, and that means it's subject to California's Public Records Act transparency laws.


    It must be nice to have money for such frivolous things, I might well have to follow up on this because some of my blog posts are getting buried…I’ll come back to this later.

     Back to the point, it sure looked like the chancellor wanted this story buried…but why? I mean, it’s insulting that tax dollars were being used (in a vain attempt) to erase history. The event itself isn’t nearly so interesting as the attempt at a cover-up here.

     $175,000 could have been spent on scholarships, “full ride” scholarships for at least 10 students (about 90% of education costs are sucked up by admin, with the remainder being spent on education), probably more like fifteen. This is, of course, just thinking like an educator, who focuses on using education's money for education. Instead, it was spent by admin on a pointless attempt to cover up history.

      Why bother with all this? The article makes no effort to answer that question, but a helpful commenter makes a credible suggestion:

“…She betrayed the public trust and abdicated her role in protecting the students under her care, allowing them (and let's face it, she gave the order to the police, I don't care what lame excuse comes from her mouth )  to be molested by the officers, fully armored, sworn to "serve and protect" them and hosed down in pepper spray while they were helpless. This was all so representatives from US bank and her little friends from Monsanto would not be bothered by the sight of Occupy protesters at their publicly-funded research facility. Any reasonable person would step down after what she has done, but she annoyingly clings to her post like a nepotistic security blanket…”


     I have to admit, this goes a long way to explain the bizarre behavior. And if she hadn’t tried to bury the story, this explanation would have never come up.