Owl Watch

Here are some of the latest developments in the struggle to keep KTRU in Houston a station run by Rice University students, following the announced sale to what Free Press Houston calls “Clear Channel affiliated U of H”:

• In an opinion piece posted on the Rice Thresher, the student newspaper’s website, writers Kevin Bush & Jonathan Stewart opined:

These are the times that try Rice’s soul. The recent incident involving the sale of the KTRU transmitter necessitates a surge of vigilance and skepticism among the student body. Unless the Rice administration is forcefully made aware of student opposition to the secretive process through which the KTRU tower and frequency were pawned off to the University of Houston, we must operate under the assumption that any university asset or program the administration deems unprofitable or underutilized is available for sale to the highest bidder. All members of the Rice community should be alarmed by the dangerous precedent established by the subversive liquidation of a fixture of our university’s culture. We must demand more accountability and transparency from our administration….

Given the immense backlash that resulted from its previous attempt to shut down the KTRU signal, it is hard to imagine that the administration’s opacity was not a deliberate attempt to preclude dissent and to obviate organized opposition. The administration may never admit it, but its actions suggest it had something to hide. More disturbingly, its choices permanently undermine confidence in its receptiveness to student input. Unless students actively express our disapproval, Rice administrators have little incentive to operate more openly in the future….

To accept the ends is to condone the means. Thus, one cannot claim simultaneously that the sale of the KTRU signal was justifiable but that the administration’s secrecy was not. Endorsing the sale of KTRU based on the proposed improvements it would provide would send the administration a message that its actions — including its willful circumvention of student opinion – are acceptable. In a response e-mail, President Leebron directed us to “hold [the administration] to [its] word that this is not a precedent.” We propose a better option. Do not sanction the sale to begin with.

We take further offense at the condescending language the administration has adopted in its attempt to excuse its actions. For example, President Leebron asserted that KTRU should be for sale because it is one of Rice’s “most underutilized resources.” If underutilization can serve as a pretext for liquidating university assets, then every unprofitable athletic program, underperforming academic department, and unnerving student tradition (do we even have to mention which ones?) should fear for their futures. Moreover, Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane told the Houston Chronicle that, as a result of the sale of KTRU, “Students aren’t losing anything.” Even if we accept that the ability to broadcast over the airwaves what the Houston Press has on multiple times dubbed “Houston’s Best Radio Station” does not amount to “anything,” the entire Rice student body has lost the administration’s purported commitment to student input. By its own admission, this administration will decide how much our organizations mean to us — and act accordingly.

• Jennifer Waits of Inside Survivor posted the following:

I was also pleased to see that a number of people affiliated with University of Houston are also opposing the sale by showing up at rallies, organizing Facebook groups and speaking in favor of student radio at Rice University. A columnist at the University of Houston paper even pointed out that the arrival of a second radio station on campus won’t benefit students at either institution.

In an interesting twist, the folks at Save KTRU are reporting that fans of public radio and classical music (who have been happy to hear of University of Houston’s plans to expand the public radio network with this purchase) in Houston will actually be disappointed by the proposals on the table for the new all-classical station on KTRU’s current spot on the dial. Apparently the broadcast range for the new classical station will be much smaller than the existing classical station on KUHF. So who wins?

• A Facebook site for WVUM in Miami is showing solidarity, with the following post: “Houston has a serious problem. Rice University Radio might have to go all classical. Almost happened to us a few years ago… Imagine Miami sans WVUM. Help ’em out if you can.”

• The Facebook site to save KTRU (link on right), now approaching 1700 members, continues the fight. Even the official Facebook site for KTRU, 1800 strong, is inundated by a storm of protest.

• The website for the Houston Chronicle carries an editorial decrying the sale, and the comments therein focus the arguments in the typical highly literate Rice manner. As the authors of the piece noted:

This deal, which was secretly negotiated without the knowledge or consent of the students, faculty or alumni of either university, was approved by the Rice Board of Trustees with no public notice, and by the UH Board of Regents just hours after word had leaked to the press. There was a simple reason for all the secrecy: Had the proposal been exposed to public view, it would have been stopped.

For the University of Houston, which had apparently been led by Rice administrators to believe KTRU had little listenership or support, the current outcry against the proposed sale likely would have proved decisive.

Additionally, spending nearly $10 million during the depths of a recession requires the most stringent of justifications, and as UH Regent Tilman Fertitta asked, “How does the University of Houston need two radio stations, and Rice doesn’t need any?”

Included in the commentary to this piece:

Spritely, in response to the question, “Is it clear which side initiated this transaction?” wrote:
Turns out that the administration has been actively planning the tower/FCC license sale for months (if not years). From what I understand, first the Board tried to find Rice’s sports broadcasts safe harbor on AM radio. But they were unable find one, so Rice sports is going down in flames along with everybody else. I mean, if Rice really needed the funds for a new commisary it could have shopped the station around. $9.5 mil for *rare* FM real estate is a pittance and fiscally irresponsible EVEN IF Rice had made public their intention of selling off something they owned. But therein lies the shame: The Board sold off something that wasn’t theirs to sell, and then took it to a whole other level by flying the finger at Rice students/alums AND the Houston community by selling it at an I’ll-show-you-who’s-boss! price.

This is just a sampling of what can be found on the internet. Stay tuned. Go, Owls!

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