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ISSUE 118 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/17/2004

Save WCAL

By Carl Schroeder
Staff Writer


Friday, September 17, 2004

For nearly four years, St. Olaf College President Christopher Thomforde has provided our community with wise, thoughtful leadership. His diplomatic willingness to engage the student body and consider our input on a variety of complex issues facing the college, such as the budget crisis and the intellectual diversity controversy, has set an admirable example for open campus discourse and debate.

Unfortunately, the secretive summer sale of WCAL 89.3 FM, St. Olafs 82-year-old independent public radio station, runs contrary to President Thom-fordes history of soliciting student input.

Last month, without consulting current students, alumni, faculty or even WCAL employees, the St. Olaf Board of Regents, under the advisement of President Thomforde, sold WCAL to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). The college will receive a one-time endowment fund infusion expected to generate $500,000 in annual interest, or about $166 per current studentless than most Oles spent on textbooks last week alone. Meanwhile, MPR plans to shut down WCAL sometime this fall.

The sale of WCAL has generated considerable outrage among alumni, WCAL listeners, faculty and some current students, sparking a SaveWCAL movement and website at www.SaveWCAL.org.

Some of that outcry has focused on a Minneapolis Star Tribune article that attributed the following quote to St. Olaf Vice President for College Relations Jan McDaniel, a major driving force behind the sale: WCAL is just a jewel, but when we asked what it's doing for the students today and in the future, that answer came up empty in all aspects of the operation.

Since nobody ever consulted the student body, there is a gaping logical flaw in McDaniels statement, and by association, the entire rationale behind the sale.

WCALs benefits to current students are, in fact, prevalent. The station airs the concerts of top St. Olaf music ensembles, strengthening the prestige of the music department and the school as a whole. In addition, WCAL announcer Steve Staruch has supported student composers by airing their music on his Evening Song program. Some current students also work at WCAL, learning skills that will aid them in future careers.

Even students not directly connected to WCAL benefit from the station. 89.3s hourly announcements touting St. Olafs academic strengths (number one in students studying abroad, etc.) help reinforce the schools strong reputation. Clearly, the regional goodwill and positive association generated by WCAL increase the value of a St. Olaf diploma.

While navigating the budget shortfall certain to continue regardless of the outcome of the pending WCAL sale, Thomforde, McDaniel and the Board of Regents should know that the creativity of the St. Olaf student body, combined with our dedication to this extraordinary college, is one of their greatest untapped resources.

Indeed, when faced with the prospect of shutting down WCAL to cut costs back in 1924, St. Olaf students responded by inventing the business model of listener-supported radio. That innovation sustained the station for 80 years and created a $10.5 million asset for the college. Who knows what creative ideas the student body could have generated in 2004  if only the Board of Regents had asked?

For example, what about creating a Minnesota college radio consortium, offering the opportunity of joint ownership of WCAL to each of Minnesotas other 16 private colleges and universitiesin effect, transforming WCAL into a broad-based, cutting-edge educational outreach tool for the 21st century?

By conducting this important piece of business during the summer, when the majority of the campus community was not present, the St. Olaf administration and Board of Regents have issued a de facto Declaration of Independence from the current student body, a decision clearly not in the colleges long-term interests.

A smart business move for President Thomforde and his successors would be to engage the ingenuity of the student body by soliciting and incorporating our thoughts, ideas and opinions when making future decisions of this magnitude.


Staff writer Carl Schroeder is a senior from Minneapolis, Minn. He majors in music composition. He serves as a member on the Board of Directors for www.SaveWCAL.org.


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