University Senate passes resolution condemning KHSU closure

Fired KHSU Underwriting Coordinator Jeff DeMark addresses the University Senate. KLH | Union

Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT STATE – By a 75 percent majority, HSU's University Senate Tuesday afternoon passed a "sense of the Senate Resolution" rejecting and condemning the administration's action to eliminate KHSU's staff and local programming. Seven percent of the senate opposed the resolution; 18 percent abstained.

A draft resolution, which was amended, asks California State University Chancellor Tim White to reinstate the station's staff and reverse related budgetary decisions. It further asks that a shared governance process be established for future decisions affecting public radio.

At the request of senators, additional points were added opposing sale of station assets, including the music library; that access to contributors' archived work be restored; and that the resolution be sent directly to Chancellor White and the CSU Board of Trustees.

Neither President Lisa Rossbacher nor Vice President Craig Wruck, who participated in the decision to fire the KHSU staff, were present.

During the 15-minute period set aside for community comment, Department Chair and Professor John Meyer lamented that the University Senate, which he called "the primary policy recommending policy for the entire university."

"As best as I've been able to determine, neither you nor your leadership were involved with this decision, or consulted about it, nor even consulted in advance of it," Meyer said.

The administration action violated a range of supposed core principles, he said. Meyer noted that while the administration cited budgetary pressure as a reason for the abrupt changes at the radio station, the University Budget and Planning Committee wasn't consulted either.

Meyer said the administration's actions didn't consider the university's Strategic Plan, a principal goal of which is to "strengthen partnerships with the local community," "was clearly not a factor in this decision."

And while greater student involvement in the station was cited as a justification by the administration, it didn't consult with the Journalism and Mass Communication Department in formulating the action.

[That department's faculty confirmed the lack of consultation in a statement issued Wednesday. "We were surprised and dismayed at last week’s layoffs at KHSU radio station," the statement read in part. "Because students, alumni and community partners have asked, we would like to make it clear that our department was not involved in the university’s decision to fire the employees."]

He said that while the administration may try to spin the actions as a misunderstanding and overreaction, "If any of this fallout has taken these decisionmakers by surprise, I'd argue that this too is a failure to respect the processes of shared governance or even minimal consultation."

The decision by HSU President Lisa Rossbacher and Vice President Craig Wruck, was made, Meyer pointed out, "by two individuals who very soon have no decisionmakeing authority or responsibility at this university at all. That alone is reason enough to challenge it."

James Floss, a lecturer in the Department of Communication, was bitter about the scrubbing of contributor's archived work from KHSU's website. He called that "a malicious act" and possibly illegal..

"What happened was wrong!" Floss said. "Really wrong... Harm was done to people who have been a part of this university for a very long time."

He'd created a body of work around his show, Immigrant Voices: Documenting the Undocumented, which he said formed his legacy at the university. "I had 18 students working on it, so don't tell me this is about student involvement," he said. "I cost the station nothing with what I was doing."

Floss then recited an original poem he'd composed regarding the dismantling of KHSU, titled "Radiocide."

Former KHSU Magazine host Brian Curtis called the station purge "an abrupt and seemingly vindictive decision." he said the station archives are inaccessible to their creators, and that station staff can't get to their personal belongings.

"What is doubly frustrating is that so much of this seems almost punitive in nature," and that "the staff and volunteers are being punished in a way for the incompetence of our leadership."

A turning point, he said, was the termination of Operations Director Katie Whiteside, which undermined fundraising. "It was cited as though it was our fault... for these budget shortcomings," he said.

He faulted Rossbacher for sidelining – "attempting to silence," as he put it – the station's Community Advisory Board. That was done by removing meeting notices from the KHSU website and not reserving university facilities for meeting space as had traditionally been done.

Curtis noted that the suspension of the CAB came "shortly after they'd been taken with coming up with a new Mission and Visioning [sic] statement for the station." He said the administration then cited the CAB's not working on the statement had been cited as a "strike against them," implying that it was due to the administration's CAB-suppressing actions.

However, the CAB had roundly rejected Wruck's invitation to help formulate a Mission and Vision Statement, prior to – not after – being disenfranchised by the administration.

[CAB members have said that the group was internally divided over the bid to have it assist with the Mission and Vision Statement, and along gender lines. Male members were generally in favor of cooperating in the process, while female members opposed Wruck's outreach as insincere.]

Curtis also noted that the station purge took place four days after the Spring Pledge Drive, after which the university "effectively took the money and ran."

He called the actions "a huge breach of trust with the community."

Former Underwriting Director Jeff DeMark, a 17-year KHSU employee, elaborated on the funding situation.

"It's been a deep honor to serve the community," he said. "I was thinking it was going to last a little longer, before we were so rudely interrupted last week."

He said he'd confronted Wruck about accepting pledges and then suddenly dismantling the station. "You knew this was ending," he said he asked Wruck. "How do you justify that?"

He said Wruck told him, "They can ask for their money back."

"I said, 'Well, that is not honest. You know better than that."

DeMark said Wruck, who serves as vice president for Advancement, is "a national expert on philanthropy." Philanthropy, he said is "based on mutual trust and personal relationships," but that "this has sundered many relationships with personal people and underwriters. They're all quitting. What can possible happen now but basically to sell the license."

He referred to the "lack of community support" cited by the administration as a situation it had itself created, beginning with the termination of Whiteside. "The reason we lost community support when they fired Katie, and how it was done," DeMark said. "I lost $45,000 in underwriting in the first two months. Then we lost $45,000 to $50,000 in membership, and it has not gotten better. They have made no effort to really bridge this."

DeMark said he raised $3.5 million for the station over 17 years, and that it all went directly into content creation for listeners, and "trying to connect communities."

Sociology Professor Josh Meisel likened the gutting of KHSU to "what Parisians are experiencing – a cultural institution burned to the ground."

He called the inaccessibility of the station's archives as "shameful."

"I am totally ashamed of the decisionmaking process and I think we owe it to the community to rebuild," Meisel said. Employees had been "rudely and inhumanely" cut off from the work of their careers, and that "essential" community trust had been shattered.

Connie Stewart, executive director of the California Center for Rural Policy, said the KHSU imbroglio is undermining her efforts to raise funds for the recently announced restoration of HSU's nursing program. Some of the potential funders are among those who have withdrawn support for KHSU over the administration's actions.

"They're connected," she said. "It's rough... This has shaken people, and shaken me."

Professor of Politics and University Senator Noah Zerbe said the administration's action "flies in the face of shared governance." He said that the closure of the university's football program was the result of a two-year process involving conversation, consultation with the community. "Even if you disagreed with that decision, at least the process was clear," he said. "No one was surprised when football was cut... This feels very different to me. This feels, 'Wait, what?"

"It really sets back our relationship with the community in ways that are incredibly painful," Zerbe said. "Even in the best case, it's going to take years to recover from."

The value of KHSU's broadcast license is according to another speaker, just $100,000 to $250,000.

After more discussion, the draft resolution was amended to urge that archives be restored, that no sale of station assets be made and that the document be sent immediately to CSU Chancellor Tim White and the CSU Board of Trustees."

The resolution passed by a 75 percent majority, with the final version and individual vote tally released the next day.

 

 







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