Why did Rice keep the KTRU sale so secret? This secrecy has been one of the most frustrating parts of the sale saga and been a specific target of ire from KTRU supporters.
If there was a concern about KTRU’s profitability or contribution to the university, then the administration should have discussed it. If Aribtron rankings were below an acceptable letter, then KTRU should have been alerted and given a chance to grow the audience. If a sale was inevitable, then KTRU should have been given time to build a proper Internet and non-broadcast operation. Instead, Rice kept all plans of the KTRU sale silent — a plan first established long before what Rice originally claimed instigated the sale.
Rice and UH seemed to go to extreme ends to keep the sale secret. Starting back in March, UH Chancellor Renu Khator questioned when the universities could go public with their acquisition plans. However, UH VP of university advancement Michael Rierson urged: “Total silence pls”.
In April, an e-mail to UH officials from the sale facilitators at Public Radio Capital warned that drawing out the negotiations risked “the likelihood of one of the ‘campus constituencies’ causes a problem for Rice, which could disrupt the transaction.”
And all throughout the negotiations both schools attempted to keep any direct mention of KTRU out of any public documents, replacing the call letters “KTRU” with those of the hypothetical station “KUHX.”
Indeed, there was no mention of KTRU at all in the public agenda for the UH board, even in potential violation of Texas’ Open Meetings Act.
And when the local media finally found out about the, what did Rice and UH do? They put an embargo on the story in a desperate attempt to keep the plan secret until after a UH Regents meeting. As the Rice Thresher explained:
Richard Bonnin, Director of Media Relations at UH, corresponded on Aug. 16 with B.J. Almond, Director of News and Media Relations at Rice, regarding an embargo with Kever. Under this agreement, the two universities would provide information for Kever’s article so long as she postponed its publication until the purchase’s approval in the Aug. 17 public meeting of the UH Board of Regents’ Finance and Administration Committee.
But why would Rice want to keep it secret? Why would Rice not want students, alumni, and Houstonians in general to be able to comment to the UH regents before their meeting, as Linda Thane discusses in her e-mail? Wouldn’t Rice and UH want the board to be able to make a fully informed decision, complete with community input?
Alas, no. Rice seemingly had its fill of that.
After the long conversations, the rhetoric, and the town hall meetings that were the norm under the Call to Conversation, the Vision for the Second Century, and the failed Baylor College of Medicine purchase, why would Rice suddenly change its track? The answer is rather simple. Rice didn’t maintain secrecy in spite of its previous experiences. Rice maintained secrecy because of them.
The beginning of the end for KTRU was February 2010. Apparently, Rice had removed KTRU from the market, only to later put it back in early 2010 with the help of Rice’s broker Greg Guy of Patrick Communications and Public Radio Capital’s Director of Acquisitions Erik Langner.
With KTRU back on the market, Rice actively tried to rush the sale as quickly as possible. The reason? They had learned their lessons from the failed Baylor College of Medicine purchase and did not want to be distracted again.
Apparently, Rice’s strategic objectives had become distracted by the hospital deal. The long, drawn out discussion had gotten in the way of a quick KTRU sale. So this time around, rather than let anything hamper the $10 million deal, Rice was just going to rush through.
Perhaps Rice no longer had a taste for public discussion after the protests to the BCM merger. To quote the Thresher’s coverage:
Vardi, a Computer Science professor, believes the atmosphere of open discussion encouraged by faculty and students in the past year allowed those involved to make better-informed decisions.
But if the BCM deal had gone through, would Rice be too busy facilitating that merger to sell KTRU? Or maybe Rice would have no reason to want to rush it, and could have initiated a public discussion.
Seeing Rice discuss the KTRU sale in this context raises questions about the long-term effects that the failed BCM merger will have on the school’s management style. As the Houston Press pointed out when it announced President Leebron as its “Educational Turkey of the Year,” if Rice had just let the discussion happen, then KTRU supporters would not have a position nearly as sympathetic.
Now all you have to do is make sure you and your administration pull off the deal in the worst way possible, so you look bad, your students and alumni are pissed, and everyone involved, including the city’s main newspaper, looks bad.
If Rice had merely discussed the deal in public. KTRU supporters would not just have been allowed some grand catharsis and chance to explain themselves, but also an opportunity to publicly plan the future of KTRU. They could have negotiated for proceeds from the sale to fund a strong online presence and ground operation to promote music in Houston. But instead, KTRU just got screwed and Rice ended up looking bad.