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Yesterday I reported on the slipshod, unprofessional “social media reports” that consultancy group IDMLOCO provided to UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi this spring while she was trying to get out from under an avalanche of bad publicity. Those memos, leaked by the Sacramento Bee this week, show IDMLOCO to be … well, you can click the link and see what they show. Because today I came to say nice things.
This spring, a group of UC Davis students opposed to Katehi spent a month sitting in at the lobby outside her office on campus. In an email obtained by the Bee, IDMLOCO urged Katehi to let them protest.
“At this time,” the email read, “removal will only fuel the current negative conversation and drive focus back to the Occupy protester removal in 2011.” The writer went on to say that “though the sit-in has caused a spike in media volume, it will die down if the university does not cause incident.”
IDMLOCO’s assessment of the staying power of the sit-in story may have been a bit simplistic—while mass media coverage tends to drop off after a while, such occupations often build in local attention over time—the essence of their advice was correct. For an administration trying desperately to shed its image as a coterie of thugs, sending the cops to roust yet another peaceful protest could only end badly.
In 2016, most college presidents understand this fact intuitively. Although some are still inclined to send in the cops to put down campus demonstrations, the reflexive, casual use mass arrests and police violence is far less common in the United States today than it was six or eight years ago. There are a lot of reasons for this, and they’re worth exploring in detail, but in the history of the twenty-first century American student movement one moment stands out as a pivot point where state violence is concerned, and it’s this one:
Most college presidents have learned the lessons of Linda Katehi’s first, worst mistake. That Katehi still needs to pay people to tell her not to make it again is all the evidence we need that she’s unfit to serve as chancellor of the University of California, Davis.
The first scandal in the fact that UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi paid consulting firms like IDMLOCO more than $175,000 to improve her online reputation is, of course, that such spending is an absurd waste of public money. The second scandal is that scrubbing the internet of negative stories isn’t something you can do. The third is that even if you could do it (and again, you can’t), you shouldn’t—at least when you’re a public official. The fourth is that once this kind of thing gets out, as it inevitably will, it’s bound to make everything incalculably worse. The fifth is that Katehi lied to the public and to UC President Janet Napolitano about the previous four.
And now we have a sixth.
The Sacramento Bee has released three of the memos that consulting firm IDMLOCO prepared for Katehi in the wake of the public disclosure of her financial ties to for-profit college company DeVry, and they’re … well, they’re really bad.
Not bad in the sense of evil, though they are that. Not bad in the sense of reflecting poorly on Katehi and on UC Davis, though they’re that too. Mostly they’re bad in the sense of being transparently shoddy. Junk. Snake oil. Grift.
The first of the three memos, written not long after the story of Chancellor Katehi’s financial ties to for-profit college company DeVry broke, says the DeVry story made a big splash on social media after it appeared in the press, that it subsided a bit the following day, and that as of the time the memo was written it hadn’t completely evaporated yet. There are charts and everything, in case the reader might be inclined toward skepticism. The word “notably” appears several times, though never in reference to anything notable.
A follow-up IDMLOCO memo from two days later is similarly banal, boasting meaningless hour-by-hour “analysis” of Twitter traffic, a color-coded map without a legend, and various lists of half-digested data. (Note: See update at end of post for more on the map.)
What leaps out most in this second memo, though, is how incompetently written it is. A caustic tweet mocking one of Katehi’s supporters is presented as an example of people “coming to her defense.” Statistics are misreported and misinterpreted. And then there’s this:
Number four on that list of “Influencers” is me, and if you look closely you can see that everything in the entry except for my follower count is wrong. My name is misspelled, my academic title is inaccurate, the self-description from my Twitter profile (which should read “historian and advocate of American student activism”) is rendered incoherent and ungrammatical. Best of all, my Twitter username—the most salient fact about me in this context—is given as that of an egg with nine followers who has tweeted exactly once.
As it turns out, all three memos are riddled with obvious mistakes. Spambots are cited as high-relevance Twitter accounts, anonymous cranks are given equal time with respected journalists, tweets and blogposts are treated as interchangeable. And there’s never even a half-serious attempt to contextualize any of the data—to draw conclusions from it, to compare trends against benchmarks, to analyze content on anything but the most rote level.
It’s all garbage, is what I’m saying. It’s malarkey. It’s the kind of “social media guru” crap that anyone who has even the most basic competency in dealing with social networks knows to shun and mock.
But somehow IDMLOCO received a hefty paycheck to spew this sewage, and somehow nobody in UC Davis administration noticed they were throwing their money away—news reports reveal that IDMLOCO has received at least three separate contracts for social media consulting from Davis in the last 22 months.
So let’s all take a moment to give IDMLOCO something to write about in their next internal memo. Share this post on social media, or write your own, so that the next time some college is on the verge of getting taken they’ll at least have a chance to find out the truth.
Update | A helpful friend on Twitter reveals that the reason the map in the second memo doesn’t have a legend is that it was sloppily cut and pasted from the website Nuvi.
Second Update | Barely two hours after this post went live, it now appears on the top page of Google, Bing, and Ask results for the search term “IDMLOCO.”
I am available for all your social media consulting needs at reasonable rates.
Linda Katehi, chancellor of the University of California at Davis, has been under fire for years. The notorious fall 2011 incident in which campus police pepper-sprayed a group of peaceful, seated student protesters brought Katehi under national scrutiny. In the more recent past, a series of scandals has swirled around her, and UC Davis students have engaged in a series of direct actions intended to force her resignation or firing.
This week the wall began to crumble.
On Monday Katehi met with UC system president Janet Napolitano. Nobody knows for certain what was said in that meeting, but yesterday Katehi felt it necessary to announce that she intended to remain as chancellor. The president’s office, asked for comment on whether Katehi had been pushed to resign, declined to comment. Until last night.
Yesterday evening Napolitano announced that Katehi has been placed on paid administrative leave for ninety days while the university investigates a number of allegations against her. In response, Katehi’s personal attorney declared that the investigation “smacks of scapegoating and a rush to judgment driven purely by political optics, not the best interests of the university or the UC system as a whole.”
The language in the attorney’s statement struck me as surprisingly aggressive at first—surely if you’re fighting to keep your job, you don’t want to unnecessarily antagonize the people who will decide whether you keep it. But then I read Napolitano’s letter to Katehi announcing the suspension.
Frankly, it’s brutal.
The letter lays out four separate areas of concern, and in each, Napolitano makes it clear that she believes the evidence against Katehi has already damned her. Regarding concerns about the employment and salary of Katehi’s son and daughter in law, the letter lays out a web of decisions that strongly point in the direction of flagrant malfeasance before concluding with this: “you have verbally assured me that all matters relating to the employment of your husband, son and daughter-in-law have been consistent with policies and procedures, but documents and other information appear contrary to that assurance.”
The letter’s discussion of UC Davis’s use of paid consultants to shore up Katehi’s reputation in the wake of the pepper-spray incident uses similar language:
“Despite public statements to members of the media, as well as to me, that you were not aware of or involved with these particular contracts, documents prepared in response to a Public Records Act request indicate multiple interactions with one of the vendors and efforts to set up meetings with the other. Misrepresentations made in the course and scope of employment raise concerns about whether such statements are consistent with the University’s Standards of Ethical Conduct.”
In short: “I don’t believe you.”
The letter goes on to say that Katehi will also be investigated for possible misuse of student fee money, including in the compensation of her family members, but the real knife to the ribs comes at the end.
The current wave of criticism of Katehi came with the disclosure that she had taken a highly compensated position on the board of directors of DeVry, a for-profit college chain, while chancellor. With that in mind, take a look at Napolitano’s closing:
“I am deeply disappointed to have to take this action. As I said when I defended you after you accepted the DeVry Board position, another violation of University policy, you have done some great work for UC Davis. Given the accumulation of matters that require investigation, however, it is both necessary and appropriate to address these matters in a fair, independent, and transparent manner.”
I’m going to go ahead and say it: Katehi won’t be back.
Last year, Christina Hoff-Sommers got mad at me for pointing out that right-wingers were huge fans of her work. She is, she insisted, a Democrat, and a representative of “a moderate and liberal style of feminism.”
On Monday, Hoff-Sommers shared a stage at a College Republicans event at UMass with Milo Yiannopoulos, the GamerGater and Breitbart editor who the National Review recently described as an apologist for racists and neo-Nazis. Here’s Milo’s opening speech, in full:
“I’ve taken some time out of my busy schedule of being fabulous and doing my hair to prepare a speech for you. Well, a few remarks, really: Feminism is cancer. Thank you very much.”
Yiannopoulos than sat down, and Hoff-Sommers stood up and said this:
“What Milo meant to say—I am going to explain. You will be pleased—What Milo meant to say is that feminism, while being a noble and valiant and courageous movement, there are certain schools of thought that are somewhat unwholesome. Right, Milo?”
She then looked over to his seat for affirmation. His response? “No, I meant it was cancer.”
Charming, the two of them.
On Tuesday I put up a blogpost, intended as the first in a series, tallying all the campus occupations that were taking place at US colleges and universities. Since then, one new occupation has begun, one has ended, there have been developments in several others. Here’s the latest…
Students and faculty at Clemson occupied Sikes Hall on Wednesday, April 12 as a response to a string of bias incidents on campus and broader complaints about campus climate and racial exclusion. Some students camped out overnight on Wednesday on the building’s steps. #SikesSitIn
University of Massachusetts
Students at UMass Amherst launched a sit-in at the Whitmore Administration Building in support of fossil fuel divestment on April 11. The students voluntarily left the building Monday night, but they returned the following morning. Since Tuesday, a group of students have been arrested each night when the administration closed the building, and the occupation has resumed each morning. #SitAtWhit
Appalachian State University
Students occupied the administration building at Appalachian State in North Carolina on April 7, demanding that the university’s chancellor condemn HB2, the state’s new anti-LGBT law. The students ended their occupation on April 13 after the chancellor made a public statement in opposition to the law. #OccupyAppStateAdmin
University of California, Davis
Students protesting Linda Katehi, the president of UC Davis, have been occupying Mrak Hall for 35 days. On Wednesday, April 13, news media revealed that the Katehi administration had spent $175,000 to try to suppress negative publicity surrounding the 2011 incident in which peacefully protesting Davis students were pepper-sprayed by a campus police officer. #FireKatehi
Harvard Law School