State lawmakers on KHSU: ‘Absolutely no reason for this situation to unfold as it has’

Past, present legislators call for transparency from university

HSU police were on hand as staff and volunteers at KHSU were escorted from the KHSU station after the university fired seven employees. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)
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North Coast state legislators past and present signed their names to a sternly worded letter addressed to California State University Chancellor’s Office regarding the drastic cuts to KHSU.

The letter addressed to Chancellor Timothy White was signed by state Sen. Mike McGuire, Assemblyman Jim Wood and former lawmakers Wes Chesbro and Patti Berg. It outlined several requests of White, including “that any further decisions by the next administration be made with community transparency and respect.”

At issue was the decision by the administration at Humboldt State University to cease any direct funding from HSU, eliminate five staff positions as well as the positions of General Manager and Chief Engineer, suspend indefinitely volunteer-run programs and require that the appointment of any interim station director be supported through non-HSU funding.

“Major decisions made behind closed doors, with zero transparency, simply do not work for this community,” the letter stated. “It hurts the credibility of the university and makes everyone’s job harder. There was absolutely no reason for this situation to unfold as it has and we want it to stop.”

The letter criticizes the manner in which the HSU administration went about making the cuts, the presence of police on scene, and the lack of notice given to volunteers and staff and to the listeners who support the station.

“Just last weekend, KHSU concluded a successful community fundraising drive, where local businesses and residents put their priorities and names on the line to support the station and their award-winning programming,” stated the letter. “The reckless manner and timing of HSU shutting down this amazing station could not have been worse and it’s time for the long-term decision making by a short-term administration to stop.”

The Chancellor’s Office has received the letter, a spokesman for the office confirmed Thursday.

“The Chancellor’s Office is in receipt of the letter you have referenced and we plan on engaging the legislators in the very near future to discuss their concerns,” spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp said in an email to the Times-Standard.

The HSU administration did not have an official reply to requests for comment and instead referred to the news release issued by the school last week announcing the cuts and changes.

“The changes are intended to address operational challenges at KHSU, prevent further negative impact to the University’s budget, and better align HSU’s financial support with its mission and with opportunities for students,” read the statement.

On Thursday, Frank Whitlatch, a university spokesman, responded to questions sent by email. He reiterated the station remains open and has not been closed despite the cuts to staff and volunteers.

“The station is not closed. There are discussions underway to collaborate with other partners,” Whitlatch wrote. “HSU has many discussions with potential collaborators, and in many cases, those discussions do not lead to anything. Our practice is to not share details of these types of discussions prior to some type of agreement being reached.”

Whitlatch also said there are no plans to sell the broadcasting license under which KHSU operates.

He added it was not practicable to notify staff, volunteers and the public ahead of the final decision.

“At a practical level, that information would have been shared publicly shortly after notifying the employees or volunteers, so it would not have been possible to notify them well in advance,” Whitlatch said.

Assemblymember Jim Wood issued a short statement in response to an email request for comment.

“Our formal requests, in response to the recent actions by the departing HSU administration, are to ensure that the new administration, along with listening to community input, make all decisions going forward about what happens next for KHSU and for that process to be totally transparent,” he said.

Those sentiments were echoed by McGuire who was in Crescent City on Wednesday afternoon.

“For generations, the people of Humboldt County and the North Coast have relied on KHSU for news and views from across the North Coast and across the world,” McGuire said by phone. “The bottom line is this: Major decisions such as effectively shutting down KHSU behind closed doors with zero transparency doesn’t work for the community and the way it’s been handled hurts the credibility of the university. In particular, it makes the incoming president’s job even more difficult. Any further decisions focused on KHSU should be made by the next administration and in partnership with the community.”

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528. 

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