Rice Killing KTRU: A Perfect Crime?

On a recent visit to New York, I had the opportunity to watch a play titled Perfect Crime. This play claims to be the longest running product on- or off-Broadway and has utilized the same actor in the leading female role for all those years. However, this piece is not a review of that theatrical production, but a look at how the Rice administration may have created another definition for the phrase that is the play’s name: a perfect crime.

What are some of the factors comprising a perfect crime? In the play, the crime was perfect because no one knew that it had happened, or at least that’s what I was able to understand given my limited comprehension when it comes to confusing storylines. I would say that we have a similar situation here with the Rice-KTRU situation, except that the crime that has been committed isn’t legally going to be recognized as a criminal offense.

Let’s take a look at the recent history of the Rice-KTRU conflict. In 1991, KTRU was donated a 50,000 watt transmitter that allowed their signal to be broadcast outside just the vicinity of the Rice campus. From what I understand, the asset itself was titled to Rice University, as were all the related legal documents (FCC license, etc.). There was a tacit understanding back then that Rice, as an educational institution responsible for the intellectual journey of its students, would basically allow a sandbox for the KTRU organization to play in–give them a real radio station to test their talents and share their music while providing the backing that a well-ranked, private educational institution could provide.

In 2000, the Rice administration first flexed its muscles by requiring a certain amount of time being devoted to sports programming of the Rice University sports teams. A fair ask, in my book, except that it wasn’t exactly handled well by both parties. The reports suggest that a conflict ensued when KTRU DJs were required, without prior notification, to operate the station during a sports broadcast during a regularly scheduled show. They retaliated in a not-entirely responsible fashion by playing music over the broadcast during the end of the game. The administration, instead of working with the station manager to alleviate the problem and come up with a more deterministic solution, decided to lockout the students and take control of the station. Protests and petitions followed and eventually the station went back to normal.

It seems, however, that the Rice administration back then was just looking for a reason to try and take over the station. They were waiting for one slip from the station administration to swoop in and take control. They failed back then because of community intervention. They failed and they learned.

Skip forward to 2010, a couple of days ago when the news first broke that Rice had engaged the University of Houston as a buyer for the station transmitter and broadcasting rights. Rice’s official statements suggest that negotiations have been ongoing for several months. An interview with KTRU Station Manager, Kelsey Yule, suggests that “the station was put on the market over a year ago by the administration without student or community input or even notification.” In addition to the fact that no one who ran KTRU knew about the sale of the transmitter is the timing of the actual sale–during Rice’s Orientation Week (O-Week) when the vast majority of students on campus are freshmen along with a few advisers who are upperclassmen or recent grads.

While it could certainly be coincidental that the UH regents just happened to have their meeting at this point in time, a quick look at the regents’ meeting schedule shows that they meet every 3 months. Their last meeting was held in May, a few days after the graduation of the Class of 2010, and at a time where bad press could certainly have tarnished Rice’s reputation, especially in the college rankings that they like to gloat over these days (USNews, Princeton Review, etc.). Instead, the administration waited till the summer had settled in, the number of KTRU DJs was at a minimum and the rankings had come in. The carnage took place during a week where the majority of the students at Rice were just excited to be at college and meet new people, without having to worry about some of the student-led institutions that comprised the university.

No matter how I look at it, it seems obvious to me that this was a meticulously planned and perfectly executed offense by the Rice administration. They took care of all the issues from their previous attempt to take over the station–it was done discretely and without the knowledge of anyone except the negotiating parties compared with the previous attempt, which was as blatant an attempt at a takeover that you could take. The final offensive play here was executed at a time that the defense was sleeping, having already been blindsided by the lack of any knowledge of the negotiations in the first place. Current students involved in KTRU aren’t allowed back on campus until Saturday of this week unless they are involved with O-Week. They can’t move in before then so they obviously wouldn’t have been chilling around on the streets of Houston in case their beloved station was being taken over.

Leebron, on his Twitter feed, only says “negotiations did require confidentiality.” There’s no explanation behind this statement or why the standard procedure of utilizing NDA’s could not have been employed to keep important stakeholders in the loop. To me, it seems like the administration didn’t want to even effectuate that process because they knew what they were doing was essentially stabbing a student-run club with visibility outside of Rice and that would obviously have some level of opposition. What I can’t understand is how anyone advising the administration could have allowed them for a second to believe that people wouldn’t be hurt by the process followed. And if the administration was aware of this, then it just demonstrates how awfully arrogant they have become. They are, in effect, demeaning themselves by essentially suggesting that the very student population that they strive to educate are too stupid to weigh in on the discussion.

So, was this a perfect crime performed by the Rice administration? The very fact that Rice legally owns all the assets and hence control over its exchange immediately means that the sale itself couldn’t have been a crime. The real crime here is against the current student population and alumni population of the university. The fact that Rice didn’t respect those individuals or entities enough to engage them in the negotiation process. In that regard, this most certainly is a perfect crime. Those individuals couldn’t possibly have expected that an educational institution that they loved and that nurtured them could stab them in the back so quickly.

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