UC Davis Attempts to Scrub Record, Gets Hands Dirty

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Celia Fong
Illustration by Celia Fong.

It’s not how Kamran Loghman intended his product to be used. Twenty one UC Davis students and alumni sat in a circle on the cement, while two UCDPD officers dressed in riot gear sprayed a stream of an orange chemical agent into their faces — at point-blank range.

Logham, who worked with the FBI in the ‘80s to develop pepper spray into a weapons-grade product, called UC Davis’ use of it “inappropriate and improper,” saying it went against his original intent. Logham also helped develop guidelines for use of the spray by police departments and said its use is only appropriate if officers find themselves in physical danger.

The individuals subject to the assault in 2011 were peacefully protesting tuition hikes in light of the Occupy Movement, a worldwide protest fighting social and economic inequality and compromised global leadership. The videos of the pepper spray incident went viral, and soon all eyes were on UC Davis.

It makes sense why the UC Davis administration and Chancellor Linda Katehi would want the evidence of the incident gone. The videos are upsetting — blatant displays of aggression and excessive force by a department created and paid to protect students.

Striking the footage from the Internet does not mean the incident didn’t happen, and by spending over $175,000 in trying to erase this piece of history from the internet, UC Davis descended to a new low in UC history. As the Sac Bee revealed in its investigation, the university once again prioritized saving face above students’ needs and all else.

The entire incident cost UC Davis over a million dollars — the students each received $30,000, and the police officer fired for leading the pepper spraying received $38,000 in a disability settlement because death threats were harming his mental health. The school paid over $250,000 in attorneys fees and another $100,000 was set aside in case new victims came forward.

But the pepper spray incident also cost the university their reputation, which is vital to signing new students and publishing research. To mitigate those concerns, UC Davis hired consultants to improve their online image and to scrub the video off of search engines.

The consultants created positive links to bury the negative ones. But the videos are still up, and their impacts are still shocking. The choice to address only PR concerns as opposed to the entrenched impacts of the pepper spray incident is irresponsible, and it lacks transparency at an infuriating level.

The UC Student Association, comprised of seven assembly members including central coast representatives Luis Alejo and Mark Stone and three state lawmakers, are standing in solidarity with the UC Davis students who are demanding Katehi’s resignation.

“It is very disturbing to hear that a chancellor has been spending precious public resources on a PR campaign to obfuscate questionable decisions,” Stone said to the Sac Bee. “Clearly it is time for Chancellor Katehi to move on.”

The campus is in the midst of an intense battle — students led a five-week sit-in demanding the resignation or firing of Katehi after it was discovered she was accepting outside pay for previously held board positions on the DeVry Education Group, King Abdulaziz University and Wiley & Sons textbook publishing company.

UC Davis students argue that these positions are conflicts of interest and exploit students. In her decision to sit on the boards, the significant gap between Katehi’s personal interests and the students’ interests is clear.

This allocation of resources into a PR campaign only cements the division between the administration and students.

The goals of effective administrators should be more aligned to that of their students. There should not be such a dramatic demarcation.

The UC has an obligation to its students to be accountable for its actions. Students deserve a chancellor who works to move the school forward and cultivate an environment that enriches growth.

In a time of financial hardship for the UC, using funds to promote an incomplete reputation over strengthening student programs and classes is irresponsible. Burying history instead of learning from it shows a lack of transparency and disregard for the impact of the UC’s actions on students. In her time at UC Davis, it’s clear Katehi and the university administration are anything but transparent.