The faculty senate at Purdue University Fort Wayne was not satisfied during its meeting Sept. 9 with the prepared answers that Chancellor Ronald Elsenbaumer dished out to them in response to inquiries about the suspension of College Access TV (CTV or CATV) last June.
At the end of June, the staff members employed in the CTV department were informed that the university was halting operations of the public access channel and that they had until the end of the day to gather their things and leave.
No statements were made informing other faculty, staff and students, most of whom were out on summer break. Word was given to the city of Fort Wayne’s other public-access channels after the decision was made. Slowly, professors who had content in the queue for broadcast on CTV found out about the shut down and word spread quickly after that.
Fast forward almost three months to Sept. 9, in a crowded room in Kettler Hall for the faculty senate meeting. The visitor’s section was standing room only by noon and included former employees Scott Troemel and Bernie Lohmuller who were present to watch the proceedings.
After various other business items on the agenda were completed, questions written out by professor of communications Assem Nasr were read aloud. In his questions, Nasr asks why the public access channel had been shut down, why the faculty senate was not included in or even informed of the decision and what that said about the administration’s view of the faculty senate.
Elsenbaumer was the speaker as the vice chancellors who accompanied him sat in the front row silent. The responses, per Elsenbaumer, had been developed, reviewed and approved in part by the leadership team of vice chancellors.
In his statements, Elsenbaumer identified a few points of reasoning for the shutdown, including that cable access TV was no longer seen as important for their marketing efforts compared to online and social media. The approved statement included language that the content broadcasted on CTV had been “outdated and irrelevant” and that there was no proof that the channel had an “external audience” of people off-campus.
“The cable-access operation was not a strategic initiative, and in today’s world it serves no discernible or demonstrable communications or marketing purpose,” Elsenbaumer said. “The audience for cable television has significantly declined in recent years as more and more people turn to screened programming, social media, YouTube and other websites.”
Elsenbaumer also stated later that the decision was an administrative one, and since CTV did not reside underneath an academic department, the administration did not feel the need to inform the faculty senate.
At the conclusion of his responses, Elsenbaumer tried to smooth things over by complimenting the communications department for its work to revive CTV. The sentiment fell flat, though, as the fact hung in the room that CTV should not have had to be revived in the first place.
As soon as the floor was opened for questions, one instructor asked how much of a financial impact cutting CTV had made. Elsenbaumer stated that it was “substantial,” but did not have any sort of data to back up that claim.
In fact, Elsenbaumer came off almost unprepared for any of the questions thrown at him during the meeting, looking over to faculty governance’s Joshua Bacon several times to ask him to compile and email all of these questions to him so he and the other vice chancellors may craft a response later.
When asked about the thought process of the decision, Elsenbaumer revealed that it had been in the works for 14 months, which also troubled the senate, which didn’t respond well to being kept in the dark about such a decision for over a year.
In regards to Elsenbaumer’s comments about the quality and relevance of content on CTV, history professor Ann Livschiz voiced what many people in the room were thinking. The comment was a “profound insult” to not only the CTV staff who worked every day to create new content, but the faculty and staff who contributed to the content run on TV.
“You talk a lot about how well thought out this was,” Livschiz said to Elsenbaumer. “Yet when asked how much did it save…you didn’t have a specific number. Was it really unpredictable that somebody here today, given the fact there were two very detailed questions about CTV submitted, that nobody would ask about the actual financial impact? ‘I don’t have an answer to this’ really questions how well thought out this actually is.”
Elsenbaumer tried to backpedal the “outdated and irrelevant” comment, but tripped over the fact that he had also specified that the responses had all been reviewed and approved by other vice chancellors.
After the meeting, Lohmuller said he had found many statements made by Elsenbaumer to be “disturbing” and that Livschiz’s comments reflected what he, too, felt about the shutdown and the university’s responses.
Livschiz didn’t stop there. She also questioned why Elsenbaumer had come so unprepared to the meeting where he should have expected people to ask about things like financial impact and how it could violate a strategic plan not yet finalized.
Troemel also called upon Elsenbaumer to explain how he could say that viewership on CTV was down when the channel did not have access to any data or reports that would support or deny that claim. Elsenbaumer felt he had won the argument when he made the point that things like the Nielsen Report would have such data, until Troemel countered by saying that CTV had tried to get a subscription to Nielsen ratings numbers, but that funding for it was denied.
Right before the 1:15 p.m. cut off time, Troemel was allowed to speak about what happened that day when he and his colleagues were unceremoniously told their services were no longer needed and that they no longer had business on the PFW campus.
A motion was then made to suspend the meeting, meaning it will pick up again at noon Sept. 16. The senate agenda includes a second section with more questions regarding CTV.