Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Pick your narrative: either Humboldt State’s adults are trying to bring clarity and fairness to the unruly rebellion at KHSU, or the university’s administration is crossing ethical lines to squash dissent.
Humboldt State University President Lisa Rossbacher has asked that meetings of radio station KHSU’s Community Advisory Board (CAB) be suspended until the members explain themselves over a vote taken in June.
It’s not clear whether or not Wednesday's 6:30 p.m. CAB meeting will take place in its usual location, but members have vowed to hold it in the parking lot if they’re denied their usual room in the Behaviorial & Social Sciences Building Native Forum (BSS 162).
In a letter dated Sept. 17, Rossbacher cites confusion over a June 27 decision by the CAB to forward a letter to her citing the lack of confidence community members have in KHSU General Manager Peter Fretwell.
The question is whether or not boardmembers' forwarding the letter constituted an expression of no confidence in Fretwell by the CAB, or if the board was simply passing the statement along.
“The essence of the issue is whether you individually understood your vote was to convey the opinions you heard during your public meetings or to express the CAB’s collective decision to vote ‘no confidence’,” Rossbacher writes.
Continues Rossbacher, “I am requesting that, before you convene any further CAB meetings at HSU, you individually and privately reply to me about your understanding of what you intended in your vote at the June 27, 2018 meeting.”
HSU Associate Vice President for Marketing and Communications Frank Whitlach said the general public remains under the impression that the CAB itself expressed no confidence in Fretwell rather than forwarding a letter from others to that effect.
“We continue to hear people talk about the original reporting as if it was settled fact,” he said.
Last week’s Thursday Night Talk (TNT) show was to have four CAB members as guests, but Whitlach confirmed that the TNT show featuring CAB members was canceled by Fretwell.
“Peter decided that they would not do that topic,” Whitlach said. “He questioned the station’s ability cover the story fairly and completely.”
Guests scheduled for the canceled show included only members of the CAB, with no one from station management or the university administration present to offer alternative perspectives.
Still, TNT routinely features guests with a singular point of view on current events, prompting a question as to why last week’s edition of the show required management intervention.
“There is a firewall between HSU management and editorial decisions at KHSU, and Peter is on the KHSU side of that firewall,” Whitlach explained. “Peter tells me that he doesn’t feel KHSU is in a good position to cover itself objectively, and that in general most journalists avoid trying to talk about themselves in their stories.”
As for any impressions that the administration is tempering dissent, Whitlach stated, “I would disagree with that conclusion, but I realize some people could come to it. What folks might consider is what has actually happened in the real world. I would say there has been a robust airing of different opinions about how HSU is managing its public radio station.”
Whitlach observed that Rossbacher hadn’t canceled the meeting outright, but had diplomatically “requested” that the CAB not meet until the intentions of the board members at the June meeting were clarified.
On Saturday, CAB member Jana Kirk-Levine sent out an advisory email message pledging that the CAB meeting will take place.
“Even if we have to move to the parking lot, the KHSU CAB plans to hold the meeting as scheduled this coming Wednesday,” Kirk-Levine wrote. “The meeting has been announced on the calendar and we plan to honor this.”
Continued Kirk-Levine, “Those in attendance will be asked to sign in, not necessary just asking to keep track of who is there. Comments will be limited to two minutes. Discussion will be focused around public input from the stakeholders.”