Force behind WUSC shutdown pulled similar coup at Tulane
BY ALEX TODOROVIC
In the vortex of the controversy surrounding University of South Carolina's radio station WUSC (90.5 FM) is director of student media Chris Carroll. He has presided over the shutdown of two college radio stations in his carrer; at WTUL in Tulane in 1991 and at WUSC in 1995. His record became the subject of interest among former WUSC executive staffers who were dismissed on Jan. 17.
The first publication to make this connection was the national college radio trade journal GAVIN. Former USC alumni Seana Baruth wrote the article that was, to a large extent, factually incorrect.
To set the record straight and quell other wild rumors, Carroll did not "yank a deejay off the air (in mid-song!)" nor has he ever been an associate of the CIA or travelled to South America. [That would be board of publications member Kent Sidell]. Nobody has ever seen Carroll stealing FCC logs and Carroll did not leave Tulane University with his tail between his legs. In fact, he left with many awards and flattering letters
An examinaion of Carroll's record at Tulane and USC brings some needed focus to the recent WUSC fracass. The picture that emerges from speaking to many who have dealt with Carroll, at Tulane and USC, is of a man who has repeatedly clashed with the college radio crowd.
At both stations he was accused of engaging in behind-the-scenes maneuvering to create radio stations that conform to his image. He is generally described as helpful by print and journalsim students and standoffish by the more "alternative" radio crowd. His own background is in print and journalism.
One former member of WUSC recalled that Carroll said to him, "You don't look like one of those freaks." The man, who preferred to remain anonymous, was dressed in a coat and tie, and thinks Carroll made some unfortunate assumptions based on his appearance. Carroll denies that he said this.
At both stations, Carroll has repeatedly used slippery words like "elitist" and "mainstream." For example, in a 1991 memo dealing with FCC violations, Carroll wrote, "The station exists only to serve Tulane students all Tulane students, not just an elitist few." What this has to do with FCC violations is not clear, but it reveals certain assumptions.
When asked about his frequent use of these terms and whether it falls within the purview of a student media advisor's job to make such judgements, Carroll said, "I think it's a matter of semantics. There's a parallel between what happened here and what happened at Tulane in that a clique of students have taken complete control and are excluding others." He defined "elitist" and "mainstream" in behavioral terms rather than appearance.
Former WUSC station manager admits that although they may have done things in poor taste, like putting sign up that read, "Put away your fucking CDs!" the station was open to everyone. The executive staff is elected, after all, and could be removed once a year. Lofton cited well-attended staff meetings as indication of participation.
Carroll maintains that at both schools the radio station was "out-of-control" and that the federal licensing procedures forced him to take harsher measures than he would with other student media. At the center of both the Tulane and USC brouhaha is how Carroll went about addressing problems, not whether the stations had problems.
The controversy at Tulane took place in the early nineties. WTUL staff made WUSC deejays look like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Paula Ouder, WTUL General Manager in 1990 1991, recalled one incident in particular with a deejay named "Blaze" that demonstrated WTUL's rebellious spirit.
"I got this call in the middle of the night from the campus police saying, One of your deejays is smoking pot in the station. Could you please come down here?' You have to understand, Blaze was this incredibly popular deejay, but he was smoking pot in the station and the fumes were seeping into the newspaper office. What was I supposed to do? I fired him on the spot and the police went away."
The perception is that Carroll encourages outsider candidates for station manager to implement change. At both stations, Carroll backed candidates who were either unkown or disliked running for station manager. These candidates were frequently seen spending time with Carroll but had no respect among station staff. The perception spread that these students were either hand-picked, and referred to as Carroll's pets or, even worse, "kiss-asses." In both cases, Carroll's support of outsider candidates strained his relationship with radio staff.
Both Tulane and USC radio staff said Carroll only encouraged students who had an agenda similar to his own. In both cases, students seen as Carroll's "hand-picked" candidates lost, and Carroll behaved in such a way after the elections that made students believe he was acting out of malice and spite.
At both stations, station managers claimed that Carroll did not communicate his concerns to them until he dropped a "bomb" which forced them to resign, and which led to the dismissal of the executive staff by Carroll.
The "bomb" at Tulane was a six-week deadline to fix years of neglect. The ultimatum was given one week before finals and coincided with the dismissal of all non-affiliate deejays, people who had been at the station for years. According to many, these deejays were the most knowledgeable members of the staff and their dismissal made the deadline that much harder.
At WUSC the bomb was a packet of evidence against Lofton, along with a threat that the FCC had "flagged" WUSC's license, a serious charge that proved unfounded.
Carroll says he was informed by the station's chief engineer of the flag. In both cases the station managers resigned after being unable to satisfy Carroll, but claim his style was confrontational rather than cooperative and was intended to bring them down. Lofton alleges that much of the evidence against him is patently false.
Carroll's actions led to investigations at Tulane and USC. In both cases, they found that Carroll had not violated university policies or procedures, but were reluctant to support his actions.
The report by USC Student Senate stated emphatically "While we believe that the administration has the authority to make the moves it did, that does not mean that we agree with it. We do not. We fail to see how dismissing the entire Executive Staff, en masse, provides any educational benefits."
At Tulane, Carroll had advised the chair of the media board not to release members' phone numbers to other board members before a scheduled vote to remove the station manager. As it was summer, the media board was out of town. The chair also happened to be one of Carroll's friends, and was the only person with the members' summer phone numbers. The investigative body was critical of this obstruction, stating, "It is not the right of the Chair to prevent one member from talking to another."
When school resumed, after Carroll had left Tulane, two members of the media board wrote a highly critical letter to the governing body stating, "We assert that the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Mark Dlutowski were at least somewhat conspiratorial, manipulative and highly political, and involved not only the Media Board Chair, but then-Media Advisor Chris Carroll."
Carroll's job was, in both instances, to protect the university's interests. Carroll maintains that his actions at Tulane were not a "take-over" but an attempt to "save" the station.
While Carroll has plausible explanations for most of his actions, some require a stretch of credulity. At USC, for instance, Carroll did not have the authority to dismiss the executive staff until he was made interim station manager by the board of publications. The board granted him this authority in January, but board minutes reveal that Carroll never notified them that he intended to dismiss the entire executive staff. Had he done so, the board might have engaged in a debate.
Carroll said he did not inform the board of this decision because he had "not thought about it yet." The board meeting was Jan. 15; the executive staff was dismissed on Jan. 17. The decision to dismiss them was reached on the 16th. This means that Carroll, after having a month to think about the future of WUSC, decided to fire the entire Executive Staff in during a 24 hour period. This assertion is either disingenuous or reflects an extremely impulsive personality.
WUSC is moving forward, but the scars will take time to heal. Members of student media are divided, and some students are at war. Jerry Brewer, Director of Student Life, said, "If I had to do it all over again I would have done it differently with the same goal in mind. I feel bad about what has happened. Their education has been interrupted, and that is unfortunate."
"There's a parallel between what happened here and what happened at Tulane in that a clique of students had taken complete control and are excluding others."