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The bureaucrat who blew up KHSU
Craig Wruck, the Humboldt State University (HSU) bureaucrat who engineered what is likely the largest mass termination of station people in public broadcasting history, will be a be remembered for years in public media circles.
On April 11, 2019, he fired over 50 staff members, HSU students and volunteers with the concurrence of HSU President Lisa Rossbacher.
He put KHSU in an impossible situation from which it may never recover.
Wruck and Rossbacher have both retired. They left the mess they created for others to clean up.
Wruck left HSU as of May 1. Rossbacher will leave HSU later in May. Neither has discussed their future plans.
Now new reporting has emerged that puts the events of the past few months in context. What occurred at KHSU was clearly instigated by Craig Wruck. HSU administrators, particularly President Rossbacher, failed to do their due diligence and are as much to blame as Wruck.
The journalist who got the story right
According to an article by Freddy Brewster in The Lumberjack, HSU’s campus newspaper, on May 1, 2019 [link], the series of events began in May 2018 when KHSU General Manager Peter Fretwell fired Katy Whiteside, the long-time KSHU PD and Operations Manager, for no stated reason. Whiteside was particularly popular with KHSU’s volunteers.
Whiteside’s firing enraged staff and volunteers at the station. Underwriters pulled there support. Major donors asked for their money back.
Wruck publically backed Fretwell at a series of contentious meetings with members of the community. A KHSU staff member charged Wruck with racial discrimination.
In July 2018 HSU President Rossbacher commissioned an audit of KHSU by the California State Chancellor’s office in Long Beach.
Bennett PerraultFormer HSU Associated Students VP
According to Brewster’s reporting in The Lumberjack, Wruck began planning for what became to purge during the fall semester of 2018.
Brewster’s primary source was former Associated Students Administrative VP Bennett Perrault. Perrault was present at a number of meetings where Wruck laid out his plans.
Wruck began preparing for what became the mass purge in August 2018.
He, along KHSU GM Fretwell, devised a plan to turn KHSU into a student station with a handful of paid staff. Volunteers would be fired and replaced by students.
KHSU’s programming would changed to reach a younger audience. The advantages of this plan, Wruck told administrators, were save money and get students training for future employment.
Perrault said he though Wruck’s plan seemed odd because HSU already had an popular student station, KRFH-LP 105.1 FM [link], and in the past KHSU had welcomed student interns every semester.
HSU President Lisa Rossbacher
Soon to the leave mess to someone new
Wruck systematically built support for his plan by demonizing volunteers. Perrault told the Lumberjack that he attended a meeting where Wruck said the volunteers were “people that haven’t left since the 80s.”
Wruck continued to push President Rossbacher to approve his plan saying that “she could make big decisions” before she left HSU. Apparently, that was when Rossbacher gave Wruck the green light.
Wruck hired an unknown vendor to download hundreds of hours of nationally syndicated programming, to give KHSU something to put on the air after the volunteers were gone. Leading up to the meeting of April 11, 2019, Wruck planned to terminate everyone at the station except for two people who would be left behind to operate the station.
At one meeting, Perrault said Wruck told Rossbacher she was “in a position that and urges her to act immediately. Rossbacher apparently agreed.
Police change the locks at KHSU
Wruck activated the plan at about 9:30am on April 11.
He passed out final checks to staff members, asked volunteers to leave and never come back and had police standing by in case there was any trouble.
Ironically, the two staff members chosen by Wruck to stay and operate the station, resigned within a day.
That left KHSU with no one to operate the station.
After everyone was gone, KHSU began repeating the audio stream of KCHO in Chico.
Since then KHSU has hired no new employees and broadcasts no local programming except the top of the hour ID.
CSU CHANCELLOR EXONORATES PRESIDENT ROSSBACHER
The audit from the CSU Chancellor’s office arrived a few days before the April 11 mass firings. Some members of the HSU administration said it justified Wruck and Rossbacher actions. But it didn’t recommend what happened on April 11. The Chancellor’s office said what happened at Humboldt State was a “campus matter.”
The North Coast Journal reported [link] that the Chancellor’s office sent a letter dated April 25, 2019 to a woman who complained about what happened at KHSU. The Chancellor expressed support for Rossbacher’s decision to gut KHSU, saying it was in the “fiscal interests of the university.”
The letter from the Chancellor said that while the reaction to the university’s decision had been “deeply surprising and upsetting to portions of the community,” Wruck and Rossbacher’s decision should not obscure the “shared commonalities with the outgoing HSU president.”
TAKEAWAYS FROM THE KHSU INCIDENT
Neil Best of KUNC in Colorado said it best: “If you are at a station that is a university license, you are one Vice President away from oblivion.”