Published in the Daily Nexus, February 22, 2012
UC officials spent nearly $100,000 to hire a consulting firm to handle the large volume of press inquiries following the UC Davis Police Dept.’s use of pepper spray to diffuse a student protest last quarter.
The UC administration hired private firm Marsh Risk Consulting, which specializes in responding to crises and managing other organization’s public relations. The company was previously affiliated with Kroll Security Group, the firm the UC selected to conduct an ongoing investigation into recent police actions throughout the 10-campus system.
Marsh Inc. is a subsidiary of consulting and insurance firm Marsh & McLennan Companies, which also owned Kroll Security Group until 2010.
Although the task force conducting the inspection was slated to release its findings yesterday, negotiations with the Federal University Police Officers Association delayed the process, according to a letter from task force head and former California Supreme Court Associate Justice Cruz Reynoso to UC President Mark Yudof.
Reynoso said the association blocked Kroll from speaking with UCPD officers in its fact-finding mission before discussions were concluded.
“While Kroll has conducted several interviews with students and faculty, as of the beginning of last week, Kroll had not had access to subject and non subject officers,” Reynoso said in the letter. “Through several rounds of negotiation the General Counsel’s office has made an agreement with FUPOA for access to non-subject officers. Interviews with non-subject officers are taking place this week.”
The investigation’s final results are expected to be presented at a public hearing sometime in early March, according to UC Office of the President spokesperson Lynn Tierney.
Council of UC Faculty Associations President Robert Meister, a professor at UC Santa Cruz, authored a letter from the association condemning the UC’s decision to hire Kroll as a conflict of interest. In the letter, Meister said the University’s involvement with consulting firms illustrates a move towards public education’s commercialization.
“By deepening UC’s links to Kroll, you would be illustrating the kinds of connection between public higher education and Wall Street that the Occupy UC movement is protesting,” Meister said in the letter.
According to Tierney, the money used to pay for consulting services was taken from an insurance fund earmarked for emergency situations.
“It comes from an insurance reserve — it’s not state money,” Tierney said. “It comes from savings that are put aside from being self-insured.”
Tierney said Marsh assisted with media responses immediately following the pepper spray incident. According to Tierney, the UC Davis external relations office was in the midst of personnel turnover and was unprepared to manage such extreme scrutiny.
“Davis was undergoing staff changes and a review in their communications unit at the time and they were overwhelmed by the international attention the incident received,” Tierney said. “When you have hundreds of press requests, you want to make sure that everybody is saying the same thing, and [Marsh] helped with coordinating a response.”