Dirty Cougar tricks

I have no personal beef with the University of Houston or any of its past or present faculty or students. In fact at one point I had considered attending UH as a student. However, deceptive and unethical tactics such as those uncovered by Texas Watchdog regarding UH’s purchase of the Rice University radio station KTRU have me questioning a lot about the university which most prominently bears the name of my hometown.

This quote from an e-mail by Erik Langer of Public Radio Capital, which represents UH in the purchase of KTRU from Rice, comes across as rather damning (note in particular the italicized sentence):

We recognize that Rice is going to have a hard time generating a complete list of assets without some of the station personnel’s input, and we agree that tipping off some of those individuals may not be advisable. … We request that Rice provide a cover story for an independent 3rd party engineering consultant, to be chosen by UH, to perform an inspection of the transmitter building, transmitter equipment, transmission line, tower and antennae. Rice should actually hire the consultant we specify, so there will be no question as to the source of the inspection, which of course will have to be coordinated with the station engineer somehow. Rice can use any reason it chooses, some of which can include change of insurance, inventory needs, or any other plausible explanation. UH will reimburse Rice for the cost of the inspection.

So, not only is UH asking Rice to do their dirty work for them, they are actually encouraging Rice to lie to its students and staff about the real reason these engineering consultants are poking around the KTRU building.

Not surprisingly, now that the cat is out of the bag, students and alumni at both UH and Rice are quite unhappy. And for good reason. The ethics and morality of  UH’s actions, either directly or through third parties, fall way short of what I would expect from an organization with “Houston” in its name. We as a community would be better off if both UH and Rice had been more open and actually listened to students, alumni, and faculty about the case for KTRU changing hands. Trying to “sneak it by” only breeds mistrust and resentment.

As it stands now, staff at many university or college radio stations across the country will likely be second-guessing the real reason engineering consultants are poking around their studio. They’ll be remembering the KTRU debacle and the dirty Cougar tricks that have now been exposed. On one hand, it is good that they will have learned from history, as those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. On the other, it’s a real shame that this is how we as a community learn who we can really trust, and who we cannot.