According to documents cited by the Sacramento Bee, the University of California at Davis payed around $175,000 for PR consultants to clean up the school’s reputation online after police pepper-sprayed student protestors in 2011.
The newspaper exposed documents that encompassed proposals and purchase orders paid by the school to have negative Internet search results hidden to help save the reputation of the university and its chancellor, Linda P.B. Katehi.
The crisis occurred Nov. 18, 2011 when Occupy demonstrators refused orders to leave the UC Davis campus, leading to university police aggressively pepper spraying the crowd. After such a response, massive protests began on campus, threatening the university’s image once gaining national media attention.
Not only did the incident ignite debate on excessive force and police brutality toward peaceful protestors, but it also made UC Davis look completely awful. How could the school’s campus police actually do this to innocent protestors? This didn’t make the school’s security look great.
The problem here is that with UC Davis working with Google to hide search results on the scandal and covering up their issues with a PR team, it is clear that they were completely in a denial stage. They did it, but they wouldn’t admit to doing it. It’s totally unethical to churn out positive news stories, social media campaigns and press releases about the school simply to cover up their mistake. Not to mention that pretty much everyone involved in hiding the scandal refuses to comment on the incident or act like the problem even happened.
So is UC Davis simply denying their actions or are they going to shift the blame onto the protestors? I would imagine they evade responsibility by saying they were provoked to take action on the protest when they refused to leave, or that they had good intentions and meant well. But how could that be? They totally tried to restore their image by minimizing the problem in attempt to reduce the offensiveness of their actions. They also tried to transcend the issue with positive news and PR documents.
The only “corrective” action taken by UC Davis was by hiding the evidence, and that still is a horrible and unethical way for them to patch up their crisis. Especially since UC Davis still has not formed an apology.
I would say that UC Davis has acted consequentially in this scenario, following an ethical standard that is morally unjust, yet they are doing what they think they can get away with. In a sense, it appears to me that the school is hoping they can act unethically and if their actions backfire, just cover it up. In my opinion, continual consequential actions do not make you ethical if the outcome continues to hurt people. The fact that UC Davis is covering up their issue is another consequential action with the intention to cover up the misfortune of their first consequential mistake. When will they come out and practice non-consequentialism, admitting to their wrongdoing and hoping that doing what is right will help them in the end. I think that paying $175,000 to cover up their problem rather than facing it is creating as big of a scandal, if not larger, than the pepper spraying incident. Time to own up to your mistake, UC Davis!
Bever, Lindsey. “UC Davis Thought It Could Pay to Erase a Scandal from the Internet.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 14 Apr. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2016/04/14/uc-davis-scrubbed-negative-online-presence-after-2011-pepper-spraying-scandal/>.
Gross, Rachel E. “UC–Davis Spent $175,000 Trying to Wipe the Internet of Its Pepper-Spraying Scandal.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 14 Apr. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. <http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/04/14/uc_davis_spent_175_000_to_try_to_erase_its_pepper_spray_scandal.html>.
Stanton, Sam, and Diana Lambert. “UC Davis Spent Thousands to Scrub Pepper-spray References from Internet.” Sacbee. N.p., 13 Apr. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. <http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article71659992.html>.