After the initial knee-jerk reaction of annoyance at misplaced funds, it’s understandable that the volume of press inquiries is more than one department can handle. University communications staff are equipped to write press releases promoting campus events, not respond to thousands of requests demanding an interview and demanding it now. And the money isn’t coming from students’ pockets either. UC spokeswoman Lynn Tierney has said that the consultant’s salary is coming from an emergency reserve fund and, as much as we wish that all UC money goes toward education, it’s reasonable that each campus has a crisis fund unrelated to student tuition, and that now would be the time for Davis to use it.
But none of this excuses the bigger issue that stems from hiring this particular crisis consultant. Davis hired the consultant from Marsh, a company that was once part of Kroll, the business still investigating the pepper spray event. Though the companies split in 2010, and both Tierney and UC President Mark G. Yudof both see no conflict of interest arising from the former split, the connection still raises concerns over integrity on both sides. A crisis consultant, responsible for helping UCD respond to an unflattering incident and portray itself in the best possible light, should not be in any way connected to the people conducting the investigation itself.
As UC Santa Cruz professor Robert Meister stated, without knowing the extent to which the two organizations will work together, there will always be the suspicion that the probe’s fact-finding is trying to fit into a coordinated script to make the school look better.
Ultimately, Davis’s poor response to a reasonable need for crisis help is likely to inspire more ire.
Although prosecutors have announced that none of the original demonstrators will be charged, and although the police chief who directly approved the pepper spraying is still on (albeit paid) administrative leave, this new move isn’t doing Davis any favors in the eyes of the people that should be its most important constituents: its students.