The sale announcement was contrary to the Vision for the Second Century
KTRU is not an investment. It is a Rice institution. Since 1967, it has served as Rice’s student radio station, and since 1991 it has served Rice and Houston at 50,000 watts. It is completely integrated with the Rice and Houston community. Selling KTRU with no warning is contrary to the ideals of President David Leebron’s Vision for the Second Century, which was unanimously adopted by the Rice Board of Trustees in December 2006.
The Vision for the Second Century was preceded by a Call to Conversation, which launched a sustained, vibrant and thoughtful dialogue about Rice among all the university’s constituencies. Given the vast scale of the planned changes to the university under the Vision for the Second Century, such a conversation was not just a good idea, it was absolutely necessary. While not everyone may have agreed with the end result, everyone could agree with the process. However, now Rice violates that process of open discussion.
The KTRU sale threatens to eviscerate a university institution and change the public face of the university, all without any conversation. Alumni, students, faculty, and KTRU DJs learned about the sale not from a university-wide conversation about financial concerns, but from rumors on a Houston Press blog. Such secrecy about a massive change like the one at hand is contrary to the underlying procedure outlined in the Call to Conversation. In selling KTRU, Rice held no conversation. There was not even a call announcing the sale. Rice learned from the local newspaper.
In addition the method being contrary to the Call to Conversation, the end result of selling KTRU also contradicts many of the goals stated in the 10-point Vision for the Second Century.
KTRU benefitted students
KTRU provided a unique opportunity for the students themselves to run a fully functioning and extremely popular radio station. Rice students could learn not just how to write papers under pressure or cram at the last minute, but how to manage a fully functioning business. The university trusted students to organize and oversee KTRU, and the university was awarded with a critically acclaimed station unlike anything else in Houston. KTRU’s reputation attracted attention nation-wide, and was a major selling point for potential students otherwise worried about Rice’s nerd-oriented, library like a rockstar reputation. KTRU turned students from amateur music lovers into professional members of the music industry, and sports fans into professional announcers.
In his Vision for the Second Century, President Leebron stated:
“We must provide a holistic undergraduate experience that equips our students with the knowledge, the skills, and the values to make a distinctive impact in the world. This requires that we reexamine the undergraduate curriculum, as well as focus on enhanced research opportunities, training in communication skills, and leadership development for our students.”
KTRU was a unique opportunity for students to both hone their communication skills and develop leadership talent. Whether through managing a staff of DJs, arranging yearly concerts, building contacts with local bands, or many other duties of working at KTRU, students built skills through real world application in a way that Rice otherwise cannot offer. By selling KTRU, Rice is eliminating this fantastic opportunity to develop the very talents that Rice should want in its students. Indeed, Rice is defaulting on its responsibility to future undergraduates. Preplanned leadership classes pale in comparison to the experience that KTRU offers. Nothing can match the feeling of turning a radio dial to 91.7 FM and hearing one of your peers DJ at 50,000 watts, blasting student-run Rice radio throughout Houston, radio waves emanating away from earth at the speed of light. If Rice students can do that, then we can do anything. Indeed, It is no surprise that KTRU can claim venture capitalist John Doerr and State Representative Scott Hochberg as among its alumni.
Even students who were not directly involved in KTRU could take pride in knowing that their very own campus housed an award-winning radio station. Now Rice has sold that pride for $10 million.
KTRU benefitted the Rice campus
Besides helping students, KTRU was a boon for Rice as a whole, serving as a key tool for public relations. As President Leebron stated in his Vision for the Second Century:
“We must fully engage with the city of Houston—learning from it and contributing to it—as a successful partnership with our home city is an essential part of our future. We should do so by continuing to integrate Houston into the educational experience of our students [...] and by continuing to provide innovative educational and cultural resources to the broader Houston population.”
24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, KTRU provided Houston with new and exciting music, contributing to Houston a sort of musical art that is not available on any other Houston radio station. This radio signal was a constant advertisement for Rice University. We provided a benefit for the city, solidifying Rice’s role as a city leader not in merely as a research institution, but an artistic one as well. Local bands with no other resource could turn to KTRU, and Rice, and have their songs played for the whole city. Local artists knew that Rice was an ally and a positive influence on the city. With the sale of KTRU, Rice loses message.
Indeed, KTRU built relationships with the local community not just through music, but through KTRU News. KTRU News actively built working relationships with nearby researchers in the Texas Medical Center, and with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Houston branch. As the Vision for the Second Century states:
“We must aggressively foster collaborative relationships with other institutions to leverage our resources. This is particularly important in light of our comparatively small size. Our geographic location offers excellent opportunities, and we are especially well situated to develop substantial strategic research and teaching relationships with the other members of the Texas Medical Center. We also can expand our teaching and research achievement in the arts in part through effective partnerships with the cultural institutions of the museum district.”
KTRU was merely beginning to expand its news program, complete with its collaborative relationships with other institutions. However, this sale destroys KTRU’s listener base, and undermines arguments for why other organizations should work with KTRU and Rice.
Furthermore, KTRU’s world music show helped build Rice’s reputation as an international institution. As President Leebron stated in his Vision for the Second Century:
“We must become an international university, with a more significant orientation toward Asia and Latin America than now characterizes our commitments. The great universities of the 21st century will inevitably be global universities, and although we are comparatively small, that ought not be seen as an obstacle to our global reach. We should begin by increasing the number of international students in our undergraduate student body [...] and foster the international learning (both here at Rice and around the world) of our faculty, students, and staff.”
Unlike any other station in Houston, KTRU consistently played a regular repertoire of international music. KTRU’s musical choices demonstrated that Rice truly was an international university. Students could expand their horizons by listening to KTRU, and know that there was a greater world to engage. International students and faculty could listen and know that they fit in at Rice. While Rice may have to fight the stereotype of Texas provincialism — not to mention its own history of provincialism — KTRU stands as a beacon of a global community. KTRU reached out to the world and tried to educate Rice about what was out there. By selling KTRU, Rice backtracks in its international endeavor, and may cost more than $10 million to make up the lost ground.
Additionally, KTRU provided art for campus enjoyment. As President Leebron stated in his Vision for the Second Century:
“We must provide the spaces and facilities that will cultivate greater dynamism and vibrancy on the campus and foster our sense of community. [...] We should make a greater commitment to incorporate art into the campus landscape and interior public spaces.”
KTRU provided a sense of community, creating a joint pride that despite our research-oriented ways, Rice was one of the hippest places in Houston. KTRU’s eclectic music requirements ensured that it constantly played music that was on the edge. More so than any other Rice institution, KTRU provided new and exciting art to anyone with a radio. Not just the Rice campus, but all of Houston benefitted from KTRU’s artistic endeavors. By selling KTRU, Rice is selling one of Houston’s most valuable artistic centers, and it was located on Rice University.
KTRU benefitted Houston as a whole
To understand how Houston benefits from KTRU, one merely has to read an explanation for one of its many awards for Houston’s Best Radio Station. As the Houston Press explained in 2006:
“Somewhere on the dial, among the Blue October and Laura Ingraham, there’s a little college radio station pumping out 50,000 watts of pure uncommercialized goodness. From the excellent MK Ultra DJ sets every Friday night to the generally upbeat morning drive, Rice University’s KTRU gives Houston the very thing most other radio stations lack: quality. The kids cutting their teeth on indie rock, hip-hop and electro manage to pull off a better radio station than Clear Channel could ever dream up.”
KTRU gave something that no other station in Houston can offer. While some may not understand KTRU’s music, it is not difficult to understand how a city as large as Houston can benefit from something like KTRU. Houston strives to be a world city, and Rice benefits from that growth. However, Houston is often mocked for its art scene, or lack thereof. KTRU provided Houston with a desperately needed outlet for local talent. Now, Houston loses that artistic outlet, and Rice loses the constant praise that came from hosting that outlet. It may cost more than $10 million to get that kind of praise again.
The sale sets a bad precedent
KTRU was a time-honored institution for Rice University, and at 50,000 watts it became a powerful tool for Rice and a boon for Houston. However, if Rice can sell KTRU for the financial benefit, it sets an inappropriate precedent that Rice institutions that are not profitable or do not directly contribute to research can and will be sold if necessary. Perhaps other art programs could be sold. Willy’s Statue looks nice, but it renders little direct benefit for the university and could certainly fetch a pretty penny. Rice’s sports programs fail to make a profit. While their existence is often justified by claims that they provide publicity, the same arguments can be made for KTRU. Under this regime of secret sales, Rice’s art and athletic programs can live with the knowledge that a poor fiscal year and a potential buyer are all that stand between them and elimination.
The Vision for the Second Century states that “we must identify and preserve those things that make Rice a distinctive and special place.” KTRU was one of those things. And while the Vision for the Second Century also instructs that “we must be strategic and selective in our choices,” KTRU undeniably provided numerous benefits that will cost more than $10 million to replace.
Edgar Odell Lovett imagined a university with No Upper Limit. By selling KTRU, Rice has stated just where the limit is.