Higher Education

The following news release came from the students fighting the sale of the Vanderbilt radio station, WRVU, lead in the main by the 5,700-strong Facebook page, here (link also on right). It details the tack taken by the college-radio grim reaper, Chris Carroll, titular capo of VSC, who has presided over the sale of at least two other college stations before leading the charge here:

Below is the latest written “release” from the VSC. The VSC has been mum on official statements in regard to the rationale for a WRVU on-air license sale. Recall that this summer the sale was announced along with a VSC written FAQ (see: http://www.vandymedia.org/wrvu/ ). The FAQ and any further releases have been sparse and therefore, causing everyone, particularly the student WRVU staff, to trip over themselves trying to figure out what VSC is thinking and why.

Earlier this month, the following email was sent out from Chris Carroll, The VSC Media Adviser, presumably on behalf of the VSC. It lists some pretty open-ended questions that evidently pass as their rationale. Ultimately, I believe that a point-by-point response to these will need to be organized and issued. Feel free to post your ideas and comments that can be used as a starting point for a collected ‘official’ response.

Vanderbilt Student Communications, Inc. • Board of Directors
WRVU Exploration ‑ Working Draft of Key Issues
Requested by Victor Clarke, WRVU General Manager, Dec. 1, 2010

An objective of the VSC Board of Directors is to take action that will benefit the greatest number of Vanderbilt students over the longest period of time. Key among its responsibilities is the obligation to preserve opportunities in media for students well into the future.

Assuming the VSC Board of Directors is presented an offer of an amount deemed acceptable (that amount TBD) to purchase the broadcast license for WRVU and establish an endowment, what are some of the issues the board might consider when contemplating whether to go forward with a sale?

• Is there an immediate alternative to fund an endowment? Are there likely alumni or other donors willing to match or substantially match the sale offer?

• Is the revenue potential presented by retaining the broadcast license equal to or greater than the offer? Are there changes that could be made to WRVU programming or management that would result in substantial underwriting income? What would be the probability of success of such an effort?

• Is there strong evidence to suggest that delaying a sale would result in a larger offer at a later date?

• Would the learning experience for students affiliated with WRVU differ substantively if the station’s programming was online only? How can this difference be measured? If the learning experience were diminished, would that loss outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

• Would the developmental/recreational (co-curricular student development) value of WRVU differ substantively for students if the station’s programming was online only? How can this difference be measured? If the student activity experience were diminished, would that loss outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

• Would student involvement change substantively for WRVU if the station’s programming was online only? How can this be predicted? If participation levels were diminished, would that loss outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

• How large is WRVU’s off-campus broadcast audience? What benefits are gained for VSC and students by having this broadcast audience? How are these benefits measured? Is serving WRVU’s Middle Tennessee broadcast listeners a priority that outweighs the opportunities presented by an endowment?

• How large is WRVU’s campus broadcast audience? How would the transition to online only programming impact those student listeners? How might this be predicted? What level of decline, if any, would outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

• What is the intrinsic value of retaining the WRVU broadcast license as a legacy to alumni and the community? How can this be measured? Does this value outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

• Are there other persuasive arguments that support retaining the broadcast license that outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

We can think of at least a few other salient questions missing from his list: If WRVU were represented on the VSC board, would this proposed sale have gone this far in Nashville — the Music City? Does Chris Carroll really belong in a leadership role of any kind at Vanderbilt (a sober-sided bean counter ruling on cultural matters)?


3 Responses

  1. In response to the working draft of key issues above, the president of Vanderbilt makes $2mm per year. The president of Dartmouth makes $650k per year. But Dartmouth continues to rank higher in almost all college rankings. Estimated cost savings and benefit to the endowment by renegotiating the president of Vanderbilt’s pay package, $1.35mm per year for 10 years = $13,500,000. Considering that Dartmouth is consistently ranked higher than Vanderbilt (or Rice) in most college rankings, nobody can ever say that the learning experience of students would be diminished because of lower pay for the president — indeed maybe it would actually help it, by attracting a person to run the school whose top priority isn’t lining his own pockets with other people’s money. How about sharing the pain? When college presidents make sacrifices commensurate with what they are demanding of others, maybe they will start to have more credibility with students who pay the tuition and alumni who fund the endowment.

  2. The VSC has never given any specific way to “Save WRVU.” That is because like the article says above, “It’s the Money that Matters.”

    Their other fluff arguments quickly become absurd after even the slightest bit of research. Here are a few of them.
    –>”Nobody listens to terrestrial radio anymore.”
    –>”Radio is dead, or soon will be”
    –>”Our Arbitron ratings are bad, show that nobody listens to WRVU, etc. etc.” (in the recent past, the VSC stated that WRVU was a tool to educate students, and they didn’t care at all about Arbitron ratings. This shows that their arguments are relative to what idea they are trying to push.)
    –>”The future of radio is internet radio.”

    But they have also stated and never denied that it’s about the money. They state that “The WRVU license is our only physical asset that is worth anything,” and that they are selling the station “to avoid a possible future budget problem.” No joke, there isn’t a problem now, but they have decided to put the station up for sale after deliberating secretly about it FOR A YEAR (again, all direct from the VSC) without informing anyone at WRVU “to protect them.” It isn’t about the cost of running WRVU, which is a drop in the bucket of the VSC’s now $900,000 yearly budget (the max that WRVU costs per year is $15,000 to $75,000 according to the VSC, a bare fraction of their total budget.) It is because of the potential value of the WVRU license. They said this. They won’t give an amount or any specific way to save the station, because they want to see what kind of a range of offers they receive. They said this too. So the only way to “Save” WRVU is to provide e-mailed feedback to the VSC, the very people who want to sell the station. They promise that they will read all of the feedback and take it into account. Yeah right.

    The analogy above about “makes as much sense as a person trying to cannibalize his own body parts to feed himself” rings true. Some other good ones have been “this is like a farmer selling his only cow so he can purchase a milking machine” or you could compare this to parents realizing that one of their children has potentially a lot more monetary value than the others, say to some country that traffics in child labor. They then explain to the valuable child that they’re going to sell him, but that it will benefit the other children in the long run. And that they’ll still keep a cardboard image of the child around so they won’t forget him when he’s gone. Oh yeah, and let the other children be a part of the “vote” to decide if they’re going to sell the child or not. The child himself has no say. I hope the other kids don’t forget that they could be next. How popular is print media these days?

  3. If the university received an offer above appraised value, and had also identified a lesser radio station that they could purchase and trade down to using the proceeds of sale, then it might not look so bad. But the way its been presented above at Vanderbilt, and at Rice, they’re just regurgitating the broker marketing inducement to encourage the deal for the sake of the deal. In the big picture, for the college it makes about as much sense as a person trying to cannibalize his own body parts to feed himself.

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