UCSD physicist Dmitri Krioukov claims he beat a ticket by spinning a complicated scientific version of the event.
  • UCSD physicist Dmitri Krioukov claims he beat a ticket by spinning a complicated scientific version of the event.
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The public relations team on the La Jolla campus of the University of California San Diego is widely regarded in the world of academic flackery as one of the best in the taxpayer-financed business. Every day, UCSD’s University Communications and Public Affairs department spins out a daunting array of glowing notices about the good work the university is doing in science, the arts, and beyond.

As a page on the office’s website notes, the department “manages numerous electronic/web vehicles as well, including the UC San Diego News Center website, Chancellor’s website, the campus e-newsletter This Week@ UCSD, and special project websites.” In addition, PR staffers “initiate and manage thousands of media relations efforts locally, nationally, and internationally.” Any bad news about the school is customarily left for the befuddled citizenry to root out on its own.

Rare misfires are quickly snuffed out by a simple but effective public relations ploy: silence. Two weeks ago a widely touted story about Dmitri Krioukov — a UCSD computer researcher who supposedly beat a $400 speeding ticket by dazzling a lowly traffic court commissioner with his complicated scientific version of the incident — was brought down to Earth by U-T San Diego. The paper quoted the court commissioner in the case as saying that much of the physicist’s mumbo-jumbo “went right over my head.”

Commissioner Karen Riley explained, “The ruling was not based on his physics explanation. It was based on the officer’s view.… The officer wasn’t close enough to the intersection to have a good view.” The U-T wanted to get Krioukov’s side, but Jan Zverina, “media relations manager” for the university’s supercomputer center, told the paper that the physicist wasn’t available for comment.

Despite the U-T’s yeomanly pursuit of the truth, the university’s version of Krioukov’s story, sans commissioner comments, remained prominently posted last week on the computer center’s website, enshrining yet another UCSD urban legend for posterity.

Perhaps not surprisingly, those charged with burnishing the school’s image are well compensated by taxpayers. Zverina, whose actual title is senior public information representative, was paid $79,726 in 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available, according to the Sacramento Bee’s online database of state salaries. Other PR workers make much more.

At the top of the heap sits Clare M. Kristofco, the university’s associate chancellor and chief of staff, with ultimate responsibility for seeing that the PR push goes right. She made $217,515, according to the Bee’s database. Then came Jeff Gattas, executive director of marketing, media relations, and public affairs and a veteran of San Diego’s city hall, who did stints with then–city councilwoman Toni Atkins and Mayor Jerry Sanders before shifting to UCSD. Gattas received $142,725. (Gattas did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment.)

Warren Froelich, the supercomputer center’s head of communications, was paid $111,117. Kim McDonald, who does PR work for the biological and physical sciences departments, got $105,771. Judy Piercey, senior director of marketing and media relations for the university, received $104,133. Cindy Clark, communications director at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, was paid $103,396.

Only a bit further down the pay scale was Doug Ramsey, “media relations” specialist with UCSD’s California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, at $93,637. Henry DeVries, who works for the university’s extension program, got $95,204. Brook Williamson, a PR aide in the chancellor’s office, was paid $79,834. Research affairs public affairs man Paul Mueller got $79,366. And Inga Kiderra, who does public relations for the social sciences and art departments, which rank far below science-related disciplines as university favorites, still managed to pull down $75,713.

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Comments

monaghan May 2, 2012 @ 12:33 p.m.

Let's look at this story from an angle that only a secure Reader-writer could overlook. Consider the shrinking opportunities for journalists these days. Overlook corporate-style pay for UC presidents and chancellors. Ignore steeply rising costs for UC students. Let's be glad that UCSD is filling the job-gap for wannabe scribes with more than a million and a half taxpayer dollars. There's a lot of good news that needs telling.

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monaghan May 2, 2012 @ 8:45 p.m.

Tonight we learn that UCSD soon will be suspending the qualified community college student transfer plan called "TAG" that's been in place for many years.

So add this insult to high salaries and benefits for just about everyone up on the La Jolla hilltop including legions of public relations flacks, to the greater number of non-California-admits and to the steeply rising fees for California undergraduates. What's next?

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Robert Hagen May 5, 2012 @ 12:16 a.m.

Is there any chance a snide button could be provided here to

brand monaghan?

I mean my God, whats next? This is such obvoius frippery, by the rich, who proclaim that I dont want to pay a traffic ticket.

Do you have the money? Yes.

Will your insurance be affected? Minimally.

Shall I obey traffic laws? Or make a mockery of them and- to boot the very law itself. For, when someone who clearly has committed the infraction, and then clearly tries to skate out of paying a perfectly reasonable fine, for the only purpose of showing the public at large that they can defeat the law on a whim, the public suffers eggregiously.

Here in Tijuana, I guess we respect what it means when the law is flouted so ephemorously. Too bad La Jolla doesn't have that manner of class, which is to say, a provision of dignity.

Heres some class that you can slather on your morning toast, and contemplate:

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conanthequasilibertarian May 7, 2012 @ 10:11 p.m.

What are you saying, diegonomics, that guilt is established by mere accusation? Traffic infractions are crimes. The least egregious of crimes, but still crimes. The government has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each and every element of an alleged traffic law violation. Simply giving someone a ticket doesn't cut it.

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Visduh May 5, 2012 @ 11:39 a.m.

If one were to dig deeply, it would become obvious that the success and standing of a UC campus has been directly correlated to its flackery, and little else. UCLA and Berkeley both self-promoted in a most shameless fashion for decades, and are now regarded as the two "best" campuses. "Best" at what is the question. Now UCSD is starting to run with the two bigger, older brothers, as reflected in its appeal to undergrads as reflected in the number of applicants it has each year. The other UC campuses have been more temperate with their bragging, and now are also-rans.

The people running these UC campuses have forgotten, in some cases a generation or two ago, the mission of the university, or have twisted it to a point of its being unrecognizable. It was intended to serve the people of the state, primarily as an educational institution, and to a lesser degree promote its agriculture and industry. Somehow it managed to remake itself into a primarily research institution that can compete with the top-tier of research universities around the world. In the shuffle the educational mission got fairly lost, and slipped far down the list of priorities, especially regarding undergraduate education. Yet, if you went out to the "person on the street" and asked him/her what the UC does, the answer you would probably get it "college educations." LOL Oh, they do that, but the big push is on esoteric research, most of which has no direct benefit to the people of the state.

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Robert Hagen May 6, 2012 @ 12:12 a.m.

My take on UCSD is rigor. I've read numerous times about the high washout rate.

I've also heard that major research is conducted there, as it is in many other universities.

If I were interviewing someone for a job, and they said they graduated from UCSD, I would be like 'Once that's verified, you're hired.'

I've been on the campus of UCSD, notably when I hectored William F. Buckley on his fears of the press, but also just cruising around, sleeping by Che cafe in the copse of Eucalyptus trees over there.

I mean etc. you know. There's a definite sense of greatness there.

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Visduh May 7, 2012 @ 6:25 p.m.

That high "washout" rate may be a high dropout rate, where young undergrads don't find the campus to their liking. Despite many attempts to connect with the undergrads there, there is a remarkably low level of alumni loyalty. They just don't "connect" with their alma mater the way most alums do. Lack of a big-time sports program? I'd hate to think so, but who knows?

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Robert Hagen May 8, 2012 @ 12:38 a.m.

Vizzz,

I honestly don't think that a lack of a sports program is what addles UCSD. UCSD is an academic university, and varsity sports are intended to keep the blood flowing, maybe give you a sense of motion.

These people are brainiacs, let's honor them as such, let them groove, like any any other young adult. We have a shitload of problems, that we created for ourselves, but we definitely don't want to pass on on to the youngsters. Our responsibility is clear- give them appropriate space to develop themselves. That's going to include the very same uncomfortable topics that, back in our day, preoccupied us.

How do we focus? I learned this from Donna Schoenkopf-

Provide unyielding support and positiveness. If the student replies with some sort of negativity or complaint, the teacher cuts that off. I hang out with people, I know what's going on:

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