The Western Illinois University administration and Board of Trustees caught an earful Friday morning about the decision to zero out funding for Tri States Public Radio. But the comments did not persuade them to change course.
“We have some very serious budget challenges. And in order to continue to move this institution forward and to make sure it’s viable and to continue to provide the quality of education that we’re known to provide, something has to give,” WIU President Jack Thomas told reporters after the BoT meeting.
When asked what specifically is looked at when considering cuts, Thomas replied, “We’re looking at everything. But we want to protect the nucleus of our institution in terms of our academic programs, as well as we want to save as many faculty and staff positions as possible. So we look at those kinds of things.”
He said Western’s deficit spending reached $4 million last fiscal year and another deficit is projected for the current fiscal year, though the administration has yet to settle on a projected figure for this year’s deficit spending.
BoT Chairperson Carolyn Ehlert Fuller concurred with the president’s comments regarding TSPR.
“We have to look at what do we do financially to save the university. And therefore we support the decision that was made by the university,” she said.
“I Stand with Tri States Public Radio”
Hundreds of chairs were set up for the Board’s meeting in the University Union Grand Ballroom on the Macomb campus. But those weren’t enough for everyone who showed up so those who arrived late stood at the back of the room.
10 people spoke during the board’s public comment period. All addressed the defunding of the public radio station. Others waited in line to speak but Ehlert Fuller declined to extend the public comment period beyond the 20 minutes normally allotted for it.
At that point, someone in the crowd called out “I stand with Tri States Public Radio.” Others followed and much of the audience stood and applauded for more than a minute.
A sampling of the comments:
- Joanne Curtis: This decision to cut public radio funding was a blow against our community. It needs to be reversed.
- Becky Parker: This 100% cut is overzealous, dramatic, and what happens is it fuels mistrust, resentment, and bad publicity for Western.
- Paul Plagenz: We must think beyond our immediate region for funding. Streaming and alumni around the world give us a regional, national, and global base for potential donors.
- Bill Jacobs: This impact was sudden. That’s why there are so many people here. They felt this directly. And I urge you this morning to take into account the quality of life that Tri States Public Radio brings to this rural region.
- Elaine Hopkins: For the price of three administrators, the station can continue to broadcast news and programs to its many, many listeners. If it dies, good will towards WIU will die with it. Think about that. These people are mad in this room. Stop this plan today.
- John Curtis: The elimination of all funding for our public radio station was carried out in such a way that it undermines the ability of the station to remain viable. So to put it simply, it threatens to kill our public radio station.
- Richard Chamberlain: I question the nature of the program review that preceded the decision to cut Tri States Public Radio’s funding. Was it honest and unbiased? I’m not sure. I suggest more shared sacrifice across the university rather than completely cutting funding for Tri States Public Radio.
- Ginny Boynton: The station has about a dozen students who work there every semester. Hundreds if not thousands who have gained from that experience over the years. This station has a dramatic impact on broadcasting students, journalism students, music students, the meteorology students who get experience giving the weather, and even history majors.
- Sterling Kernek: This is going to be contentious perhaps but you have an apparent unwillingness to cut administration or athletic programs. You can’t just beat up on arts and sciences.
- Gordon Rands: This resource is an important, critical one for this community. And I urge you to look to other places to cut than something that every time it says its call letters is an advertisement for this university.
Making TSPR Self-Supported
The administration recently announced that WIU will stop providing money to Tri States Public Radio on March First of next year. Western currently funds the full time salaries for nine of the radio station’s 12 staff positions. The university also provides space on its Macomb campus for the station’s main broadcast studios.
Thomas said he wants to see Tri States Public Radio survive. He called this an opportunity for the station to be self-supported. He said Brad Bainter, WIU Vice President for Advancement and Public Services, will work with Billy Clow, Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication, and TSPR General Manager Jonathan Ahl to come up with fundraising ideas.
In a previous statement, Thomas referred to public television station WQPT, which is housed on the university’s campus in the Quad Cities. He said the TV station has paid for its own operating funds, including personnel expenses, since Western acquired it in 2010. Thomas said Tri States Public Radio should have to do the same.
TSPR’s Ahl has called that a false equivalency, saying WQPT is a television station in a metropolitan area with a signal that reaches around one million people, while TSPR is a radio station in a rural area with a signal that reaches less than 250,000 people.