The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday June 2nd

Shaw University to sell its historic radio station, despite major alumni pushback

<p>Sophomore psychology and statistics major Joanna Zhang works as a student DJ at UNC's WXYC.</p>
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Sophomore psychology and statistics major Joanna Zhang works as a student DJ at UNC's WXYC.

To enhance its curriculum, Shaw University, one of the oldest historically Black universities in the Southern U.S., decided to sell its radio station, WSHA.

The sale of the radio station’s frequencies is part of Shaw University’s plan for a major overhaul of technology, facilities and learning infrastructure for its department of mass communications. But to many alumni, the sale is not justified.

“The investment is part of the Shaw University Board of Trustees’ strategic plan to modernize curriculum across all academic divisions to prepare students for rewarding careers as leaders and innovators in a variety of industries,” Kandace Harris, special assistant to the president and board trustee liaison at Shaw, said in a press release announcing the modernization plans.

Founded in 1968, WSHA has been a part of Shaw University for nearly 50 years, playing a range of music from jazz and blues to reggae and Latin. It was the first radio station to be owned and operated by a Black college or university.

“Radio was perhaps the most important communications medium in the world,” Shaw University interim President Paulette Dillard said in a statement. “It was an innovative move by the university. Fifty years later, the media landscape has evolved. Shaw is proud to remain at the forefront of innovation in communications and media arts.”

The sale of WSHA angered some Shaw graduates, who believe the radio station is of great cultural significance to the community.

"This was to be the year to celebrate 50 years of WSHA as a community voice that grew from the 1960s Kenner Commission Study to provide trained African-American journalists to work in media,” a graduate group, Stop the Sale of WSHA, said in a statement.

The sale has rehashed recurring issues involving Shaw’s Board of Trustees. Many graduates believe the sale of the station illuminates deeper-rooted problems in Shaw’s administration.

"I just think Shaw has the weakest Board of Trustees of any HBCU in the country, and not only that, they operate in secrecy,” said Michael Hall, a graduate of Shaw University. “By the time people found out about the sale of the WSHA, it was too late for anyone to do anything about it."

The Daily Tar Heel has reached out to Shaw University's administration and had not heard back by the time of publication.

Organizers of the Stop The Sale of WSHA collected more than 2,000 petitioners consisting of graduates and friends against the sale, but they were never given a proper audience by the University officials.

"The sale of that radio station has angered so many people, so many alumni, that they came together more so behind any single issue in the last 20 years,” Hall said. “Nothing has mobilized the alumni like the sale of that radio station.”

The alumni group said the sale is short-sighted and reflects a failure to adequately raise funds, and that it reflects an unwillingness to engage 2,000 alumni, some of whom asked the Board of Trustees to allow them to show how the radio station could be an even more robust profit center.

Shaw University’s board has been consistently at odds with its alumni dating back as early as 2010 when the national alumni association called for the school’s board to resign.

“That’s the same (board) that Shaw has had for so many years,” Hall said. “It's pathetic. And any time a board sits that long, something's wrong. It’s too long for any board and for people to be staying there, something is happening that's not right. That's very clear. And how they are getting away with it, no one knows. Shaw University has had a board problem for years.”

The sale of WSHA is only a part of the ongoing struggle between the University’s administration and its alumni.

"Something's wrong, something is clearly wrong, and it’s going to cause an uprising at some point because if they think that people are going to sit back and just watch them sell off Shaw piecemeal, they’re going to find out that they’re going to get a lot of trouble on their head.”


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