MACOMB, IL -- In a shocking decision, Western Illinois University administrators decided to strike a mortal blow likely to kill off its NPR station, WIUM-FM, without any studies or discussion.
That's what two Freedom of Information Act responses have revealed. I filed one, now on appeal with the Illinois Attorney General's office. And WIUM reporter Rich Egger filed one, with his excellent on the results available here:
WIU's plan is for the station, aka Tri States Public Radio, to give up its $660,000 annual subsidy from the university's tax funding, and raise the money on its own, on top of what it has been raising with annual beg-a-thons. That's a huge sum, impossible to raise annually in the 20-county rural area the station reaches.There's little wealth and much poverty in the region.
The station serves as the top news media for the 3-state area, with reporters filing stories that run alongside the national NPR news. Obviously they will soon be laid off, and the station diminished greatly if it survives at all, unless the plans change.
WIU's Board of Trustees has received dozens of emails protesting the withdrawal of subsidies, but has apparently been ready to rubber-stamp whatever the administration wants. The board met today, Sept. 28, at 8 a.m., not a great time for public participation.
I presented the comment below, but was cut off half way through, as commenters were given only three minutes to speak. So I filed a copy of the comment with board. Then I left after the public comments ended.
WIUM-FM was there, and hopefully will provide a story on the rest of the meeting. Here's WIU's press release on the meeting. The station funding is a drop in the bucket compared to what WIU spends on other things, as revealed in this press release. It doesn't meet again until December.
I'm not optimistic that this board will do anything to save the station. The board allows only 20 minutes for public comments. Here is the Macomb newspaper's story on the comments, and here is the recording:
Six comments involved saving the station, and one asked the board to release old minutes of closed meetings. Apparently the board is violating the Open Meetings Act, as it could redact names and sensitive information in those closed meetings and release the information. The closed meetings take place the evening before the 8 a.m. public meeting, or at distant 'retreats. Cozy.
Update 10/2/2018: The Trustees have been charged with violating the Open Meetings Act.
WIU talks about transparency, but it's just talk. There were not even any agendas available at the meeting for those who might need them. The agenda is on the web, a snippy assistant told me. Yes, but what about people without computers or printers or web access?
And as the recording shows, the board violated my free speech rights by criticizing me for personal attacks. As a government agency they cannot legally censor me, however 'civil' they hope the meeting will be.
The other speakers had some clever remarks. One talked about the "low hanging fruit" -- the station -- in the administration's zeal to cut costs. Another said WIU president Jack Thomas is known to be looking for another job, and "it feels like the sacking of Rome" as he is on the way out.
"You can't expect the community to sit down and shut up when something like this happens," Anne Burton, a Macomb attorney said. That was brave of her since her husband works at WIU and she teaches a class there.
I know people who were afraid to attend the meeting for fear of retaliation. And there is talk that the WIU professor lay offs to save money are retaliation for union activity.
Anyway here is what I told the board today:
I am Elaine Hopkins, married to George E. Hopkins, a WIU history prof for 40 years, now retired. Good morning and shame on all of you, especially the two trustees who live in Macomb, for planning to sign today the likely death warrant of Tri States Public Radio and its award-winning NPR station WIUM.
I wish I had the theatrical talent to parade a coffin dressed in black before you, since logic doesn’t seem to persuade the trustees and administrators who hatched this ridiculous idea.
The public, your public, doesn’t want this. You have already received dozens of pleas from the fans of this station not to withdraw WIU funding from it. As they have said and written to you, it is a stupid, foolish action, since it is WIU’s best public relations outreach to its 20 county area, as well as a recruitment incentive for faculty and for retirees wishing to live in a college town.
Enrollment is down, so you are willing to cut off the best possible way to reach potential students and parents, showing them that WIU is here and serving the public, as universities are supposed to do, presenting news and culture through its lively NPR station.
I hope all of you heard Rich Eggers story yesterday on the radio about how he filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents on the decision to kill the funding for TSPR. The report is now on the TSPR website. You should read it.
I filed a similar FOIA, though only back through 2016, not earlier. I received about 60 emails dated 2018, form letters from the president and the trustees, in response to the heartfelt pleas from listeners not to kill the funding.
I especially call out you (Trustee) Cathy Early, with your hypocritical form letter blather about your support for the station while doing nothing to stop killing it.
There was no analysis, no debate, no minutes of meetings or even text messages in the response. Just form letters from WIU. I have appealed WIU’s response to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, because I just can’t believe the administration would make such a drastic decision without studying the consequences and subsequent discussion. But apparently that’s what happened. With this kind of leadership no wonder enrollment is down 11 percent.
This is total incompetence. The administrators pushing this should be fired, and their pay used to fund the station.
And you, the trustees, the final check and balance in the system, apparently are ready to rubber-stamp whatever the incompetent administration wants, without any discussion. You should resign in disgrace for not doing your job.
There are other ways to save money, and I believe you also have the power to borrow money to get through a rough patch until the state rights itself after the Nov. 6 election. Nobody has discussed that option, apparently.
In fact you have the power to overturn this decision. Put it on your December agenda. You should resign today if you don’t have the courage to stand up for WIU and Macomb. Now the figure is $600,000 a year to be raised to save the station as it is – impossible in a rural area. It’s laughable, really
This talk about budget shortages is a joke – where are your priorities? Take it from the football budget, that dangerous sport that nobody watches, preceded by a free reception with expensive food, a bribe really to get people to attend. Or lay off some of the 250 administrators now on the payroll, not the professors who do the real work on the campus.
Have any of you really read the budget to look for savings or check what you are funding?
In short it seems WIU has been taken over by fools – who may know the price of some things but the value of nothing. That’s got to change. Hopefully it will change after the election, though you can save your hides now by deciding to fund TSPR, as the public wants.
Please place this comment in the records of today’s meeting. You should also place a copy of Egger’s report in the files.
-- Elaine Hopkins