Appeal argues Georgia State U. misappropriated student fees in Georgia Public Broadcasting deal

GEORGIA — Georgia State University administrators circumvented student fee policies when money for the student-produced radio station directly benefited Georgia Public Broadcasting, according to an appeal to the university system’s Board of Regents that aims to regain student control of the station.

In early 2014, the university’s Student Activity Fee Committee appropriated money to WRAS, the student radio station, including $676,000 for a new transmitter. Then in May 2014, GPB President and Chief Executive Teya Ryan announced a $150,000 multi-year agreement with the university, which allows the state’s public broadcasting network to use most of the station’s airtime.

The appeal, which members of the student radio station announced on Monday, argues that administrators failed to tell activity fee committee members about the possible agreement with GPB before the committee gave the money to the student radio station — a misstep they argue should render the contract void.

“Through open records documents, we found out that the university was in negotiations with Georgia Public Broadcasting behind the scenes without involving students while the students were going through the appropriate appropriations process,” Lynn Medcalf, a member of the Save WRAS coordinating committee, said. Save WRAS is a group of current and former WRAS members devoted to nullifying the current contract between the university and GPB.

Medcalf said the fees were also a misappropriation of funds because “student dollars are in effect benefiting an outside body that is not a student body.” Since GPB uses WRAS airwaves for more than half of the day, they also use the new transmitter and other equipment purchased with student fees.

The Board of Regents has 30 days to respond to the WRAS appeal, though no response is required. If the board finds university administrators violated a board policy, it could advise but not compel the institution to nullify its current agreement with GPB, Medcalf said.

“After reading through the Board of Regents policies as well as the entire appeal, I think it would be very unlikely that they would be able to ignore this,” Medcalf said. “This is a direct violation of their own policy.”

University spokeswoman Andrea Jones and Douglass Covey, Sr., vice president for student affairs, declined to comment about the appeal.

GSU junior and incoming WRAS general manager Hannah Frank said she is “cautiously optimistic about the appeal.” Frank said that the GPB agreement has led to a 25-percent decrease in student radio listenership and less student body engagement.

“Before the GPB takeover, we would get 30, 40 phone calls within a two-hour time slot,” she said. “Now, I got really excited on Saturday because I got two.”

Frank said sharing airtime with GPB is “confusing for listeners” who do not know when to tune in for student programming.

“The FM signals should be for students since it’s student run,” Frank said, “and 14 hours a day are now talk radio run by people who are not students. The ideal situation is to work with the university on getting all of our airtime back. That is our ultimate end goal.”

Contact SPLC staff writer Elaina Koros by email or at (202) 974-6317.