U. Arizona student media facing uncertainty after being told to vacate offices

The University of Arizona student radio station will have to abandon two newly-built recording studios under a plan that would move student media out of their offices. Credit: Robby Leaño/KAMP Radio

ARIZONA — Student media are looking for a new home at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

In late 2018, university officials told student media leaders through their adviser they would likely not need to move as the school looks to find space for a new international student center. They reversed course at the beginning of the spring semester and told student media to find a new space — though officials have said via a statement they’re committed to finding a comparable office.

The current student media space — which houses student newspaper The Daily Wildcat, KAMP, the student radio station and UATV, the student television station — was built in 2003. It was built specifically for the newspaper, in part, with donations from alumni and foundations.

“We’ve developed a culture around that space,” said Jasmine Demers, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wildcat.

The space is 6,200 square feet in one of the University of Arizona’s student centers near to the journalism department. About 200 students and a small crew of professional staff use it daily.

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Demers and Robert Leaño, the radio station manager, said university officials have not reached out to the students and instead opt to communicate through their adviser and Arizona student media director, Brett Fera.

The students feel shut out of the process to find a new space, Demers said.

“Nobody came to us for our input, or tried to even talk to us,” Demers said. Student media leaders recently sent a letter voicing their frustrations to Robert C. Robbins, the university president.

While student media supports the new international center, Demers said, the sense is palpable that media organizations are being undervalued and shut out.

Chris Sigurdson, the vice president for communications at the University of Arizona, said via email that accounts of an eviction are premature.  

“The Student Media Board is essentially asking for help in identifying new offices. Nothing will be done until they have an acceptable space,” Sigurdson said.

Leaño echoed Demers, and said that for the radio station especially, this feels like déjà vu.

“From the KAMP perspective, we’re like, again?” Leaño said.

The radio station moved last year into The Daily Wildcat space. The move and cost to equip and sound-proof the on-air and recording booths was about $32,000. 

“It took us quite a long time to build those. And to see them now go to waste … because we’re going to have to move, wherever that might be, it’s kind of unfortunate,” Leaño said.

No acceptable alternative space has been offered for student media, said Fera, the student media director.

“The biggest problem is square footage,” Fera said.

The university’s space management department has thus far suggested spaces in the 3,000 to 4,000 square-foot range, Fera said.

There are other requirements too — fast enough internet to handle high bandwidth needs, acceptable recording studios and room for media equipment used by the multi-platform media operation.

Nothing that’s been suggested so far has been workable.

Fera was on The Daily Wildcat staff in 2003 when the current space was being built, and echoed Demers, saying that a student media office develops a strong culture.

Despite the uncertainty and frustration, Fera said he and the students understand that the university’s priorities change, and he has no reason to believe the move is an attempt to diminish student media.

“I don’t think that there’s a goal to get rid of student media, I think, it’s just, it’s just moving a little faster than anybody realizes the operation can go,” Fera said. The original tentative deadline to move was May, Fera said, but that’s become a “tall order.”

A university statement by several top officials reiterated Sigurdson, saying that plans for the new international center will not move forward until workable space for student media is found. “This is our first priority,” they wrote.  

“We will work tirelessly in the coming days to ensure Arizona Student Media has an equitable space. We look forward to finding a solution that serves everyone,” they wrote.

SPLC reporter Cory Dawson can be reached at cdawson@splc.org or at 202-974-6318. Follow him on Twitter at @Dawson_and_Co.

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