Monday, August 29, 2016

Back on the Chain Gang - UC Chancellor Linda Katehi Screws Around with Wikipedia

Just before August vanishes off the calendar, let's talk about Linda Katehi, who resigned as Chancellor of  the University of California at Davis on the second Tuesday of this month. She was involved with Wikipedia as far back as 2009, completely focused on her own Biography of a Living Person (BLP) article. The problem was she possibly had underlings at UC Davis do all the work on that piece.

The Background

Katehi (born Pisti Basile Katehi; Athens, Greece) was a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University who left Indiana for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she taught the same subjects while also getting sucked into the endless white-walled makework machine that is college administration (Prof. Katehi was provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs at UIUC). However that machine gives enough time for politicking and she was able to impress the UC Regents and they made her Chancellor of UC Davis, with her husband (chemistry professor Spyros Tseregounis) brought along as well to teach. (By the way, if two academics are married and one accepts a position somewhere else, the college will often hire the spouse, especially if they have been tenured before. So this move for the Katehi-Tseregounises is common.) Linda Katehi's BLP first appeared on Wikipedia as a stub before she was hired on in California in May 2009. It didn't remain a stub for long.

Two years later Occupy Wall Street brought back the sit-in protest to national news, and Occupy groups appeared everywhere, including UC Davis. On Thursday, November 17, 2011 Occupy UC Davis held a sit-down protest in the Quad over tuition hikes and the violent treatment Occupy Cal protesters got at UC Berkeley earlier that month. The next day the protesters were still in the Quad; they had camped out overnight. Chancellor Katehi called in the UC Davis police and by 3pm the famous images of Lieutenant John Pike pepper spraying students sitting on the ground were being snapped by cameras. Quickly his nonchalant action became an internet meme.

                           The Beatles are somehow involved, as always. (Stolen from the sadly-defunct Gawker.)

There were claims that doused people were vomiting blood and that the UC Davis and UC Berkeley police were shooting pepper spray in students' mouths. There were investigations and Lt. John Pike was later fired, but Davis was still stuck with Linda Katehi. And this is where Wikipedia and PR really come in.

Conflict of Interest Editing, the UC version

We can't find the real names, but we know the Wiki-handles of a number of probable COI editors or sockpuppets of one smart paid editor.

The first COI editor was Mtang6, who started the article on May 7, 2009. That probably was Katehi, because it was only a couple of lines. Possibly it could have been her children, working at her behest.

Next was Eve2500, who added bulk to the BLP in June of 2011.

In early November 2011 before the pepper spray incident, two IP addresses did some "embarrassment cleanup" and made the article larger; they were and - now there is a gap in the record from July 22 to the 18th of November.

After the outright barfight of edits (mostly with IPs, not accounts) following John Pike's claim to fame, Jokestress (Andrea James) took the semi-protected version of the article and began re-editing it, but remained neutral - we are not claiming she is a COI editor, just that a "name" editor showed up to tinker with things for a day and then dropped the article like a hot rock.

Spin the watch hands to October 2013, and there was Linda F UC Davis, who tried to get the editors to include more mentions of Linda Katehi's STEM background in the BLP and stated outright that she worked for UC Davis in the article's talkpage. Linda F UC Davis has not been seen on Wikipedia since.

Move forward another year to November 2014 and the unpronounceable Wvxihjazb acts mostly like an SPA (single purpose account), editing the Katehi article along with the Larry N. Vanderhoef article (chancellor of UC Davis before Linda Katehi), an article on Greek academic John Panaretos (which had a link to the Linda Katehi), "improving" the list of notable alumni in the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science (I give you one guess who got mentioned), and finally the article on the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (adding a list of Commissioners, one of whom was Linda Katehi.) All of Wvxihjazb's edits were done from the 5th of November to the 26th of November skipping every two days. Like H.P. Lovecraft's vowel-less monsters, Wvxihjazb utterly disappeared after wreaking havoc, back to the Void.

Last but not least was KianaHooper. For a paid editor, "she" played the part of the neophyte Wikipedia editor very well: "Hi! I'm Kiana Hooper. I was urged to create an account so here I am! I think Wikipedia is really awesome and I can't wait to improve it. I never knew Wikipedia was run by such an intricate and well though out set of rules. It's really cool!" is what the first line of "her" userpage ran. Nobody noticed as all she did was edit in bursts, first on "Hispanic-serving institutions" redirect page, then UC Davis, then Linda Katehi....and that's all "she" focused on. Notice how the editor came and went until the fateful day of June 5, 2015 when the explosion of text erupted and "she" more than doubled the size of the article. Then KianaHooper vanished, or went back to being Linda Katehi's administrative assistant, or a paid-off grad student, or a hired hack, whatever the truth is.

Paying for a Spotless Reputation

Realizing that the photos from the pepper spraying had been posted to the Internet, UC Davis hired Nevins & Associates at $15,000 a month for six months to massage the internet and make the problem go away. Problem was, they did it in January of 2013. There went  more than 90,000 dollars down the drain. Then they hired Purple Strategies, a public relations firm in Virginia to "Get me off the Google" as chancellor Katehi demanded. (I can only hear that demand in Arianna Huffington's voice.) Purple Strategies were paid 44,600 American dollars total for three months of work; in the end with more cash burned in a pyre for another PR firm, the university urinated away $407,000.

                                Not actual UC Davis money burning, but a realistic approximation.

Did I mention this idiotic vanity site was part of the cash expended? None of it worked, of course, and you would think a person trained in EE and computer science would know how the Internet functions in the early 21st century. Her other "footbullet" element was a predilection for international travel; according to the Sacramento Bee, she cost UC Davis over S174,000 in 26 international trips to drum up business for the college, going to Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Dubai, France, Austria, Germany, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus over a five year stretch from 2010 to 2015; very little came of these trips for the college, and Chancellor Katehi flew first class every time. Meanwhile, she was a board member at the corporation behind the for-profit DeVry University, and had previously spent time at textbook publishers John Wiley & Sons, raking in $420,000 for three years work, making the costly textbooks (which the publisher makes obsolete constantly) part of the UC Davis scene if they weren't already. And this is a person that makes $420,000 without the need to part-time it in private industry! In the end Linda Napolitano put her on ice this April, then gave her the axe this month, nearly three weeks before the UC Fall 2016 semester began.


Wikipedia was useful once for building a reputation, but in a world of "gotcha" journalism, everybody having a camera on a cell phone, and Google caching it has become insanely easy to ruin yourself. Linda Katehi might be out of a job, only because she never took Thomas J. Watson's command to THINK seriously. But then, IBM leased punch card machines to Nazi death camps, so what did he really know?

                               Neither of the two men above are Greek, but dance along anyway.

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