Monthly Archives: December 2010

Rice University sells KTRU, claims to promote public arts

The other day, I received a Rice University news release in my inbox with the title: “Rice University launches public art initiative […]”

Really? Launches public art initiative? Whatever could it be? Maybe Rice was launching a 50,000 watt transmission of musical genres and styles that cannot be heard anywhere else on the local spectrum? Wait, Rice already does that. It is called KTRU. And what could be more artsy than the eclectic and unique songs that would fill the KTRU repertoire?

But apparently, Rice thinks that three random works around campus is public art. The works aren’t bad, but I question how public they are. Parking at Rice is difficult enough, even for those of us who know the campus. And thanks to the changes in parking policy, there is not even free parking on campus.  On the other hand, KTRU is available to anyone with an FM radio.

Indeed, while these installations may be nice, they are quite limited.

This one is called paraMuseum: Environmental Exigencies by Charles Mary Kubricht. It is four leaves.

Charles Mary Kubricht thinks of the Rice campus as some sort of “tree museum.” These four panels, according to the Rice press release, “reflect her interest in how humans actively create and measure experience, perception, meaning and the fate of the natural environment.”

At the rate things are going, Rice will be a museum for student expression, and unqiue and local art. Perhaps in 50 years, someone will have an installation of photographs documenting the glory of local programming and the grand history of KTRU.

But at least that one is in the Brochstein Pavilion, which is reasonably easy to find and access. Not so much can be said for the second work:

Aurora Robson's "Lift" is a huge spherical sculpture, made of more than 9,000 discarded plastic bottles.

This looks kinda cool, is apparently supposed to create “a sense of the ‘cosmic and astronomical’ among the daily regimen of bench presses and treadmills,” in the Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center.  That is nice, but it is even less accessible to the public than the previous work. This ball hangs from the ceiling of the new Rec Center, which is limited to members of the Rice community.  So while “faculty, staff and retirees, and graduate students of Rice University as well […] their spouse/domestic partner[s]” may enjoy this dangling décollage, the rest of the public will have to catch glimpses through the window as they run the outer loop.

And speaking of glimpsing through the window, the final work:


Leo Villareal's "Radiant Pathway" contains 92 LED light tubes, each of which have 20 pixels capable of displaying 16 million different colors. The changing light sequences are never repeated.

The non-repetition inherent in this work [edit: which resides in the BioScience Research Collaborative] certainly is an artistic marvel. However, Rice claims that it is a public work because people can see it through a window. University Art Director Molly Hubbard calls it a new era of public art “outside the hedges.”Apparently a work inside a building that you can see through the window is “outside the hedges.” But you know what else at Rice provided art for the Houston community outside the hedges? KTRU. And while Radiant Pathway is only on from 7 a.m. until midnight, KTRU transmits 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While Rice claims to launch a public art initiative, it does so while eliminating one of the best sources of free, easy to access, public art in the city of Houston: KTRU Rice radio.

I do not like it when people accuse various politicians or institutions as being Orwellian. It is usually used in the sense of someone saying something that means the exact other. For example, the Healthy Forests Initiative allowed for private logging companies to cut down trees. It is probably more accurate to claim such actions are Doublespeak, or merely simple politicking. If you are doing one thing that people don’t like, claim you are doing the exact opposite.

Or course, jokes about the Orwellian nature of the Rice administration are no new thing (pdf: Rice Thresher Orwellian Cartoon):

Rice University in 1984. Another classic Dan Derozier cartoon

So if 91.7 FM turns to classical music, which you can already get on 88.7 FM, and that source of unique, eclectic musical art from Houston and around the world goes silent, don’t worry: Rice is launching a public art initiative by placing three works of art on its campus.

And that totally balances out.

Flashback Fridays: Nuclear Bongs, North Korea, and Pot at Cardozo

[EDIT: As seen on Above the Law]

Last month North Korea launched a small attack against a South Korean island. This was probably North Korea’s biggest provocation since its (failed?) test of a nuclear weapon. At the time, I referenced this event with a Rice Thresher Backpage titled: North Colleges Test Nuclear Bong. (pdf: North Colleges Test Nuclear Bong)

James Baker asked for an original copy of this Backpage.

I was rather proud of the Backpage at the time. The original drafts were a little too blunt (haha!) with some of the pot jokes, but then EIC David Brown helped smooth them out. In a depressing turn, apparently some Rice students did not quite get that map of Rice was supposed to be in the shape of North and South Korea, with North and South colleges at appropriate ends. But perhaps worse, some students didn’t even realize that was a map of Rice. Maybe if you don’t know what to look for, it is hard to see. Oh well.

Anyways, this Backpage is rather appropriate for a flashback this week. The Korean conflict may be a bit tardy, but it does demonstrate my habit of writing pot-related columns that will surely damn attempts at finding a job. Just this month, I wrote a column for The Cardozo Jurist about how the law school should provide free marijuana for students. It is supposed to be a satirical reaction to the law school’s new restrictions on alcohol and alcohol advertising, and also to the study aids pills that are normally popular during finals. And I’m sure I made some other points in the column, which you most certainly will find to be an exemplar of Swiftian wit. (pdf: Mintz cardozo jurist pot article)

However, this column is not the only reason why that Backpage was appropriate for this flashback friday. At the time, James Baker had just released a new book, titled: “Work Hard, Study…and Keep Out of Politics! Adventures and Lessons from an Unexpected Public Life.” I used the occasion to mock one of Rice’s resident talking clubs, the Baker Institute Student Forum, which did a very good job of discussing current events and then handing out name tags at Baker Institute speaking events.

Anyways, apparently James Baker’s wife, Susan Baker, has just written a book titled Passing It On. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle about her new book, Mrs. Baker demonstrated that either she is hilarious, or just doesn’t care anymore, or funny third thing, as she used the interview as an opportunity to talk about her sex life with the former Secretary of State, Secretary of Treasury, and Chief of Staff James Baker. I guess she wanted him to do to her what he did to the country during the 2000 election recount. (My jokes are so funny and topical!)

“I used to think I needed to be a good supportive wife, so I shouldn’t fuss or stomp around or be angry. But holding all that in makes you emotionally sick. So I started expressing my feelings. Jimmy was surprised at first, but over time, it gave him a new respect for me, and without a doubt deepened our relationship.”

She pauses for a second.

“Thank heavens for good sex. It can get you through a lot.”

I doubt that James Baker would request the original version of whatever Backpage is associated with this recent news event. As Tim Faust put it: The Baker Institute for Pubic Policy. Zing!

A David Brooks column about the Rice KTRU Sale

Yesterday, the New York Times contained an article about universities selling their radio stations, notably Rice University and KTRU. Of course, I wrote a blog thing about it, including hypotheticals about what various New York Times columnists would write about the matter. However, one very important columnist was missing.


Bohemian bourgeois find truth on Facebook.


David Brooks has a special place in this whole thing. Not only is he one of the utterly worst New York Times columnists, but he is the commencement speaker at Rice University this year. So it is only appropriate that he write a full column about the KTRU sale.

Here it is, a fake David Brooks column about the Rice University KTRU sale:

Sometimes you make stuff up.

Yesterday evening I was interviewing Rice University President David Leebron in preparation of my commencement speech there, and we were talking about the university selling the student radio station KTRU. His voice was nasal and fatigued, and he was taking those little sighs that people take when they’re frustrated with being criticized even though the criticisms don’t have any actual effect on the result.

Out of the blue I asked, “Have you ever read Reinhold Niebuhr?”

Leebron’s tone changed. “What does that have to do with anything?”

I continued to list random names and philosophical concepts, hoping he would react to one and I could write a column about it: “C.S. Lewis, Gestalt Theory, Steven Quartz, Ewan Moontz, Friedrich Schleiermacher, bobo chic, Rick Warren…”

I went on for a bit and he stopped me at Milton Friedman.

“I generally don’t agree with his views,” President Leebron said. “For example, there is certainly such a thing as a free lunch, Rice got one by secretly selling KTRU. We get the proceeds while KTRU did all the work.”

As part of my contract with the New York Times, I’ll take this point to state a thesis that disagrees with a notable conservative icon but agrees with someone in power in a way that gets the result I wanted anyways.

Unlike 90 percent of America, I am cheering for the sale. This is widely cast as a students v. administration conflict — the powerful Board of Trustees against the ragtag KTRU community. If this were a movie, KTRU’s arguments before the FCC about localism and education would be successful, and KTRUvians would be weeping with joy.

But this is why life is not a movie. The Board is not always wrong. They do not always exploit student efforts without any discussion. The Rice administration — to the extent that they are paragons of power, which I dispute — won through hard work.

For the first time in university history, the rich and powerful work harder for student interests than the students. KTRU supporters would have gotten what they wanted if only they had worked harder, even if the university was keeping the sale secret. And even though I have never had a job besides working for various upper crust publications, I have no problem lecturing about hard work.

This lack of labor by university students explains why non-profit radio licenses are now essentially dominated by Christian religious stations and NPR.

Notice the dichotomy between the two remaining systems. Blue State NPR asks its listeners for money, while Red State Christian stations only ask their listeners to pray and be better people. Even though I was born in Toronto and have worked almost exclusively in Washington D.C. and New York City, I am an expert on the differences between Red States and Blue States. And what’s the deal with airline food?

You can look back on the history of the KTRU sale many ways. It was callous, at least, to call students lucky in any context of this secret sale. The Rice Board and President Leebron could have done something wonderful if they had engaged students and the KTRU community at the beginning. They didn’t. And it is obviously true that this secrecy played a role in the opposition to the KTRU sale.

But Neibaour wouldn’t listen to KTRU. How do I know? Because I’m on the New York Times opinion page, so I must be right. Sure, I generalize and make stuff up in a way that may sound good if you already support my positions but is utterly lacking in hard facts.

And the same could be said about Rice’s justifications for the KTRU sale. Therefore, it was only appropriate that Rice University invite me, David Brooks, to be the 2011 Commencement Speaker.


Save KTRU made it to the New York Times

Check out your Monday New York Times Business Day section, there is an article about Rice University selling KTRU! Looks like the Save KTRU movement finally made it to the big time. Maybe the story will make it to the opinion page as well!

Bob Herbert would write about how selling KTRU, and shows like Africana, demonstrates that large universities do not care about important local and minority interests, and people who cannot afford portable online access. He would reference boomboxes.

Tom Friedman would write about how everything will be online anyways, and complain about how students want to remain on FM radios. He would note how much bandwidth it would take, and money it would cost, to listen to KTRU over an iPhone. However, Friedman would argue that the situation will improve in 6 months, and if it doesn’t then Rice should buy back KTRU.

Paul Krugman would talk about how the FCC no longer considers public welfare when regulating the public good that is the airwaves, and will extrapolate these facts to government as a whole.

Nicholas Kristof would write about some poor girl from India who made it big by having her music played on KTRU.

Charles Blow would look at the statistical correlation between the decline of college radio and the rise of college tuition.

Gail Collins would write some cutesy thing about her experiences in college and about how they really knew how to protest in the ’60s

Ross Douthat would equivocate.

Maureen Dowd would write a fictional dialogue where the board is Lady MacBeth and Leebron is MacBeth.


While the article is just a general, cursory look at the issues surrounding Rice University and Vanderbilt selling their student radio stations, it does recognize one of the distinct issues of the KTRU sale, notably that Rice did it in secret:

Despite obvious parallels between KTRU and WRVU, Chris Carroll, director of student media at Vanderbilt Student Communications, draws a stark contrast between the situations at the two universities. At Vanderbilt, he said, “what’s happening, really, is a big public discussion about is this a good idea or not, and there’s no conclusion to that yet.” Rice, he said, made the decision to sell KTRU behind closed doors — without student input.

At least Vanderbilt had the dignity to tell students that they were planning on selling the resource. As has been documented, Rice University tried everything possible to conceal the truth.

If Rice really needed to sell KTRU, then they could have made the arguments to the students. But Rice has yet to demonstrate in a factual study that selling KTRU will result in a greater benefit than the loss of all the benefits and value that KTRU had.

While KTRU supporters should be glad to see the story make it to the New York Times, the article does not mention another major point not only of supporters’ arguments, but legal arguments as well: KTRU was a gift and meant for education, not an asset to be sold for cash.

KTRU was created by Rice students. From its very beginning it was a student creation with little other input, financial or otherwise, from the university. Even the upgrade to 50,000 watts did not come at the expense of the university but was paid for by the late KRTS station as part of a FCC-mandated deal.

Rice has put little into KTRU, and seeks to bleed it for everything it is worth. Rice seeks to benefit not from its own labor, but from the labor of its students. If Rice students had not made KTRU so popular, it would not have been strong enough to mandate the 50,000 watts transmitter in the KRTS deal. This send a message to Rice students to not contribute to the university — after all, if you become too successful, they’ll just sell it for cash. But furthermore, it raises legal questions as well.

The KTRU radio station has an educational license. By selling KTRU, Rice is undermining this license, essentially turning the educational purpose into one of profit. Friends of KTRU raised this legal problem in its Petition to Deny:

It has long been Commission policy that the bedrock goal of any NCE license is to promote an educational program. Now, Rice and UHS propose to entirely undermine the educational purpose for which the license was originally granted in favor ofa cash-grab. Rice is effectively treating the KTRU License like any other university asset, and completely ignoring the Commission’s mandate that the license serve an educational purpose. Instead, Rice is seeking to profit from the sale of a license that was founded and operated by students, in order to pad the university budget.

Taking advantage of student efforts merely to line a pocketbook is not just slimy, it may be illegal as well. KTRU is supposed to exist for educational purposes. Rice tried to steal that education away without letting Rice students, or Houston, know.

Well here is to hoping that they get schooled before the FCC.

Secret Intern Hero of the KTRU-KUHF sale, and lucky students

As the battle to block the KTRU sale continues (or at least make it so miserable for Rice that the university gives KTRU $3 million to set up a proper online station and ground music presence just to get everyone to shut up), there will inevitably be unsung heroes.

As in all battles, some brave soul will recognize the higher cause and throw herself upon the sword of justice, sacrificing for the greater good and the RZA.

KTRU ain't nuthin' ta fuck wit

In this new batch of e-mails from the KTRU open records request, we learn the tale of the The Bravest Intern. (pdf: KTRU KUHF intern hero)

“she withdrew (we hope only temporarily) in part because of her loyalty to the opposition to the sale.”

Those are some good words to see. The sale masterminds think that KTRU supporters and Rice students will just roll over and capitulate. They think KTRU will not put up a fight. But we are fighting on the blogs, and we are fighting in the courts, and we are even fighting on their own turf. This one student laughed at KUHF and the Rice administration, and demonstrated that loyalty cannot be bought. There is no price high enough for student dignity.

Rice Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane seems to think, again in that Dolores Umbridge tone, that Rice “constituencies” are merely ignorant about the matters at hand and need to be reminded that some “lucky students” will “really benefit” from the sale, because it will result in a few internships.

Perhaps Rice needs to be reminded that with KTRU, students are not the interns, they are the managers. KTRU was made by Rice students and run by Rice students. KTRU and its student leadership competes on the FM band with every other station, and often wins. But now, these students are being fired or demoted to internships.

KTRU offered leadership opportunities, radio experience, and personal expression for dozens of Rice students. Now there will be six Rice interns fetching coffee for the University of Houston.

Lucky them.

Lucky, to have a student-run station sold without notice or discussion. Lucky, to have unique and local music replaced by nationally syndicated wire. Lucky, to have students’ own shows replaced by internships for a few.

This isn’t lucky. This is shit. And it is about time Rice recognized it.

If Rice needs to sell KTRU, fine. KTRU supporters will stand in opposition and do whatever it takes to block the sale — that is a given. But at least Rice could see that this is not lucky for them. It is an awful, heart-wrenching experience in which the alma mater we knew and loved has stabbed us in the back. And the least that Rice can do is say, “Yes, we know it sucks, but we had to.” But they haven’t

Rice has not recognized that this sale is an attack on its own students. Instead, they think we should feel “lucky.” Lucky that dozens may suffer, and tens of thousands of radios go silent, so that half a dozen can get internships. Lucky.

And they haven’t even explained why. Does Rice really need the money? Was KTRU below some objective standard of student popularity or Arbitron rating? Did the board not like that many DJs were not students? Did the university fear on-air FCC violations?

Where is the financial study justifying this sale? Where is the hard evidence? There is none. The Board decided that KTRU wasn’t worth it, and so they threw out the students with the transmitter.

And the “constituencies” are supposed to feel lucky.

I feel lucky that I attended a university with people brave enough to withdraw from an internship in solidarity with KTRU.

So keep writing letters. With every records request, we see that University of Houston and Rice administrations receive and read letters in opposition. Show them that this one brave student is not the only one willing to stand up for KTRU.