Banned WMUA radio host questions process of his removal

By Anthony Rentsch

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Community members with ties to the University of Massachusetts’ student-run radio station WMUA say students were guilty of abuse of process when they filed complaints that led to the removal of the station adviser and a long-time program host in April, and that they continue to make decisions concerning the station’s future without regarding the consequences.

Yet, amidst an investigation of personnel and workplace conduct at the station by the University Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity that is expected to be completed in early fall, student leaders remain quiet.

The Equal Opportunity and Diversity office referred The Daily Collegian to the Office of News and Media Relations. UMass spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski said he “expects (the investigation to result in) an evaluation overall on where (the station) is heading and how it can best serve the students and the community.”

Max Shea, former host of “Martian Gardens,” a weekly radio program that featured contemporary classical and experimental music, had his station membership revoked and was issued a no-trespass order, banning him from the UMass campus for two years on April 22.

Former station adviser Glenn Siegel, a University employee, has since been reassigned to other duties, according to Blaguszewski. Blaguszewski said associate vice chancellor for Student Development Annemarie Seifert is filling the role of interim adviser for the foreseeable future.

According to a station-wide email written by station manager Andrew DesRochers in late April, Shea’s removal was done in accordance with the disruptive behavior and harassment policy of Article 6 of the station’s manual. WMUA’s manual allows the executive committee to terminate membership if it is determined a member violated Article 6.

In a police report obtained by the Collegian filed April 17, students said Shea made them uncomfortable with his “political opinions and comments regarding race, gender, and sexuality.”

However, Shea and Louise Dunphy, host of “Celtic Crossings,” said that there were no specific incidents that led to his removal in April.

Shea mentioned an incident from November 2014, in which he made comments about rape culture that upset some of the students present during a conversation concerning news programming the station was going to broadcast. He said DesRochers informed him that students planned to file a grievance through WMUA against him, although it is unclear whether or not such a grievance was filed.

The police report also cited an incident from the spring in which Shea allegedly made disrespectful comments during a Stonewall Center Ally meeting at the station. His comments were not directed at anyone from the Stonewall Center or any of WMUA’s LGBT members, according to the report.

The report also states that students notified police that Shea was caught viewing pornography on UMass computers within the WMUA office some time between 1999 and 2000.

Documents concerning Shea, as well as a past employee who exhibited behaviors similar to Shea, were provided in the police report, which was filed by programmer Haley Chauvin, music director Chloe Doyle and DesRochers. The documents were obtained from Siegel’s desk, according to the report.

DesRochers and Chauvin are members of WMUA’s executive committee. DesRochers declined to comment until the University investigation has been completed. Chauvin, Siegel and Seifert declined to comment on this article.

Shea and Dunphy claim students submitted questionably obtained documents and relied on personal aversion to him when describing him in a police report filed on the day of his removal.

While students claim in the report that Siegel “encouraged an ‘open office space’” and that “no one was assigned a particular work station or filing drawer,” Shea and Dunphy contest that extracting the files from Siegel’s desk was illegal.

“They didn’t want me around because I have a history of standing up and voicing my opinions, sometimes rather zealously and against other people’s opinions,” Shea said. “Apart from that, they just don’t like me.”

Dunphy claimed that students told Siegel that Shea was “weird” and that they didn’t like being around him.

In the report, students stated they were scared for their safety if they chose to remove Shea. They referred to razor blades Shea kept on his desk as “weaponized,” and told the UMass police officer that they were unsure if Shea had a gun that could be used against them.

Dunphy said the razor blades were part of WMUA’s tools to take care of CDs and they were purchased in the station budget. The report also stated Shea had not made an attempt to physically harm anyone at the station.

Despite students’ claims that Shea’s conduct at the station made them feel uncomfortable, Shea said that students never talked to him concerning wanting to remove him from the station.

The police report indicated that no criminal charges were assessed, and suggested that students bring the matter to Siegel. The students did not wish to do this, as Siegel had defended Shea in the past when issues arose, according to the report.

“They are not being reasonable,” Shea said.

‘Students wanted something they couldn’t have’

 Shea and Dunphy believe the removal of the two long-time WMUA community members is part of a move to make the radio station entirely student operated.

As it stands, station membership extends to non-student community members, even as objectives outlined in the WMUA manual call for a focus on student empowerment and access for students who traditionally have not had access to broadcast media.

“(Students) made it very clear recently that their plan is to move to be a student radio station, and legally they can’t do it,” Dunphy said. “Their charter is that it’s a community radio station run by students.”

Currently, an agreement between the Student Government Association and WMUA states that students must control at least 50 percent of the programming time, which the station has actively sought to achieve this year. Last year, community members held the majority of programming time until the Spring 2015 semester, according to previous programming schedules released by the station.

“I think the main conflict in this is the students wanted something they couldn’t have,” Shea said. “If they proposed to the general body that we make it all students they couldn’t have gotten it anyway.”

Dunphy added that community members are often willing to allow students to take a time slot they applied for.

“There has always been a cognizant awareness on behalf of most of us that students needs and concerns have to be considered,” she said.

Shea also said WMUA wouldn’t be able to make a budget without the help from the community members during the fund drive and to secure underwriting.

In fiscal year 2015, the fund drive and underwriting accounted for $46,115 of the station’s $65,104 in revenue.

Blaguszewski wrote in an email that, “University and student fee support for the station makes up the majority of the budget,” as money from the Student Activities Trust Fund pays for student salaries and operational expenses, while the University covers the salaries for the station adviser and engineer.

The pair explained that the presence of community members is important in achieving another one of the station’s objectives that is outlined in the manual: to “serve as a training facility in all facets of management and operations of a non-profit radio station.”

“The intent behind the (community-radio-station-run-by-students plan) is that this radio station can survive and sustain itself because we have those two components to it,” Dunphy said. “The component for the students is for them to learn all of the skills that need to take place to run a radio station – all kinds of business leadership skills, fundraising, production, as well as how to DJ.”

“They are not going to be able to run the station – they don’t understand and they don’t know how,” Shea said.

Shea and Dunphy said they want to resolve this incident in a manner that acts as a learning experience for students. Specifically, the two claimed Shea has filed a grievance with WMUA – which has not yet been heard – and requested mediation, which he said students denied.

“That’s why he has pushed for mediation because he sees that as an educational opportunity to resolve those issues,” Dunphy said. “We feel that the process is an essential part of training so people are ready to go out to the real world with real jobs and you really are getting those skills at a real radio station.”

Student leadership at the station declined to comment for multiple Collegian inquiries, citing restrictions due to University processes.

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Anthony_Rentsch.