Former staff and volunteers console each other after
being fired from KHSU (image; Eureka Times-Standard)
At a bizarre meeting on Thursday (4/11) Humboldt State University (HSU) VP for Advancement Craig Wruck told the staff and volunteers at KHSU-FM that, as of that moment, their services were no longer needed.
Wruck told the stunned group that HSU had decided to “reorganize and streamline” operations of the station.
The mass terminations were part of a well-coordinated effort by HSU administration officials to end what they considered a blemish on the university.
From press and social media reports, we assembled this sequence of last week’s events:
• Wednesday (4/10/19) 2:00pm
Craig Wruck sent an email to all station staff and volunteers saying: “There is mandatory meeting at station tomorrow at 9:00am.”
• Thursday (4/11/19) 9:00am
Wreck arrived and the crowd ambled in. KHSU employees were split into two groups. Two station employees, Morning Edition host Natalya Estrada and Development Director David ever, were sent to another building on campus. Estrada and Reed were then told of mass terminations and that they were the only two station employees not being fired. Reed was offered a new job: Interim station director. No one had asked Reed if he wanted the job.
Wruck announced to the assembled staff and volunteers that their positions were being eliminated, effectively immediately. At around the same time, HSU issued a press release to local media outlets.
While Wruck was speaking, someone knocked on the door. Wruck opened the door. It was Ed Campbell, a volunteer host for over 30 years who had no idea what was taking place. Campbell said he knocked because his cardkey didn’t work. Just-fired staffers filled Campbell in. He decided to do his voluteer Classical music show and headed to the control room.
Just after the announcement, General Manager Peter Fretwell, whose job had also been terminated, left the room an sent an email to volunteers who were not present and told them to contact Reed, the new interim station director. to make arrangements to remove their personal items from the station.
Campbell started his air-shift but he couldn’t get the terrible events of the morning off his mind. So, he started playing a recording of Igor Stravinsky’s “Requiem Canticles.” Then he left the booth and walked out of the station.
The immanent dead-air caused one former staff member to asked Wruck what the station would do for programming. Wruck’s reply echoed verbiage in HSU’s press release:
“Even with the changes at KHSU, listeners will continue to have access to high quality national programming and news. The most recent audience data reaffirm this is, by far, the station’s most popular programming.”
Soon after the meeting, KHSU began airing streaming audio of KCHO, Chico.
Outside the station former staff members and volunteers hugged and cried as a police car sat nearby.
• Friday morning (4/12/19)
David Reed resigned as interim station director. He wrote in an email to his former co-workers:
“The last 24 hours have been shocking. Thank you for all of the texts, emails and messages of concern for KHSU and the staff and volunteers.
I found out about the university’s restructuring plans for KHSU at 9 a.m. Thursday April 11.
As of 7:30 a.m. Friday April 12 I have resigned as an employee of KHSU. I also declined the offer to be KHSU’s acting director, an appointment that was made without consulting me.
I am saddened, disappointed and angry.
To all of you who supported me and the station in my last 10 years, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you especially to those of you who volunteered to be on the pledge drive last week.
We all made great community radio together, with your support. You can be proud of that.
And, I really loved my job. Until yesterday.
Love, David Reed
Former Development Director,
KHSU – Diverse Public Radio
Former Development Director,
KHSU – Diverse Public Radio
Update: Morning Edition host Natalya Estrada resigned from KHSU on Sunday (4/14). Now 100% of the staff and volunteers at KHSU are gone from the station.
Today (Sunday 4/14), as we prepare this story, KHSU’s website [link] makes no mention of last week’s events. The program schedule shows only national programs, many rolled over several times.
THE BACK STORY
To understand why these events happened, turn back the clock one year. On May 14, 2018, new KHSU General Manager Peter Fretwell fired KUSU programming and operations manager Katie Whiteside for unspecified reasons.
(Image by Kevin Hoover, Mad River Union)
Whiteside was a long-time station employee and was liked and respected by co-workers and people in the community. Her dismissal set off a groundswell of protests by listeners, volunteers and some KHSU staff members.
Because of the flack, KHSU called off the spring pledge drive. Several major donors pulled their support the station. Community members demanded that Fretwell be fired. Wruck supported Fretwell’s decision to fire Whiteside.
The university blamed Wruck for the uproar caused by Whiteside’s dismissal. He publically apologized for his “poor communications.” The community protests didn’t abate.
On July 19, 2018 HSU’s President, Dr. Lisa A. Rossbacher, requested an inspection by California State University’s Audit and Advisory Services to evaluate KHSU’s strategic alignment with the university’s mission, operations, administration, oversight practices, and governance.
(image credit: Kevin Hoover,
Mad River Union)
Near the end of July, 2018, KHSU’s office manager, Lorna Bryant, sent an email to university administrators alleging that at a recent staff meeting she “was subjected to abusive behavior” from Vice President for University Advancement Craig Wruck.
Bryant described the incident to a local newspaper [link]:
“I was yelled at; I felt disrespected; and there were consistent attempts to keep me from speaking. As the only African American woman on staff at KHSU … it’s quite troubling to receive such treatment from a university administrator.”
Such incidents were typical of the animus Wruck encountered wherever he went until the mass terminations in April 2019.
Wruck announced he is retiring from HSU in May 2019.
The audit by California State University’s Audit and Advisory Services is now a scapegoat for HSU’s actions regarding KHSU. But the audit recommended none of the specific actions taken by Wruck or by the university. It appears the mass terminations were made by HSU's administrators.