Florida Atlantic president sends letter to student government following action against radio station

FLORIDA — Florida Atlantic University President Frank Brogan sent a scathing letter to student leaders last week after the Student Government Association at the Boca Raton campus attempted to shut down OWL Radio, the student-run station.

Brogan wrote in his letter that the student government had been acting in a “selfish, immature and potentially unethical manner.” OWL Radio workers were asked to turn in their keys last week because student leaders said no one was being held accountable for the station’s equipment. But students and administrators have called the act an attempt to shut down the station because of an ongoing feud between the two entities.

According to Michael Hallenstein, the student government’s controller, the decision was made because of concerns that some student volunteers at OWL Radio who have keys to the station might not have the “authority” to hold them.

“There is nobody responsible for the fiscal assets of the radio station,” Hallenstein said. “SGA asked for all people to turn their keys back to the university center to make sure those who had keys were authorized.”

Current Productions Director Josh Wetherington, a volunteer worker, said that all the student workers have signed contracts and are following regulations.

Wetherington also said that students have been forced to volunteer status because of budget cuts from a total budget of about $80,000 last year to $20,000 this year instigated by student government. Wetherington said the cuts eliminated three main positions, and there is currently no station manager or permanent adviser for the station.

Wetherington also said that the selection process for a new station manager has been tied up for months because student government leaders have yet to choose someone for the position. He said he also applied for the position but has not yet been interviewed.

“It’s a pattern of behavior,” Wetherington said. “Michael Hallenstein was the one who cut the jobs and hours, then turns around and says that no one is around to take responsibility for the equipment.”

The student government controls about $6 million collected from student activity fees and has authority on how the money is distributed among student organizations. Hallenstein said the funding cuts to the radio station were made because of concerns over the organization’s business model. He also said that complaints were made against the station because it tended to repeat shows and provide students old information.

“We’re trying to find a new direction [for the station] and we’ve scaled back on the money,” he said.

But others say the cuts and the recent decision to have student workers turn in their keys is part of an ongoing conflict between the student government and student media organizations on campus. Earlier this year, funding for both the newspaper and student-run television was also slashed by a total of $63,000.

Two years ago Michael Koretzky, adviser for the school’s student newspaper University Press, faced a $6,000 fine and suspension after the student government accused him of violating ethical guidelines. Two weeks later, newspaper staff members were ordered to turn in their keys because there was no editor in chief.

Koretzky, who is volunteering to become the radio station’s interim adviser, said both the radio station and the newspaper have written stories or produced shows that have been critical of the university’s student government.

“[The student government’s] motives are murky,” he said. “If I was going to sum it up, our student government doesn’t like to be challenged.”

Wetherington said administrators have shown empathy toward the situation, but because activity fees are under the control of the student government, there has been some reluctance for the administration to step in.

But in the letter, Brogan ordered the student government to revise its constitution, attend leadership training and to work closely with Vice President of Student Affairs Charles Brown. Brown said the university decided to take action because of the pattern of unacceptable behaviors from student leaders, including the alleged shutdown of OWL Radio.

“That’s just one of the many suspected things that have raised suspicions on whether the SGA is following the constitution and if they are doing what’s best for the university,” Brown said.

Wetherington said administrators instructed him and other students to keep their keys and to continue running the station. Interviews for the station manager position will resume on Friday and Wetherington said he is hoping that someone will be chosen by next week.

Koretzky also said he is encouraging student workers at the radio station to go about their businesses.

“I told them, they tried this with the newspapers, tried to fire me, and tried to lock us out,” he said. “But all that backfired.”

Both Wetherington and Koretzky said they will continue to have meetings with administrators and student government leaders. A petition is being circulated asking that student government fully restore the station’s funding.