Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass to offer refunds to WMUA’s fund drive contributors

By Shelby Ashline

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(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

Donors who contributed money during WMUA’s polka shows as part of the annual November fund drive will be offered refunds, a decision that was made by University of Massachusetts Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy during a meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Since WMUA’s program schedule for the spring semester was finalized in January, community members have expressed discontent with the reduced air time for polka music and the University heeded their request for a conversation with the chancellor concerning potential compromises.

According to UMass Spokesman Daniel Fitzgibbons, the meeting was attended by the chancellor, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life Enku Gelaye, two community representatives advocating for polka programming and State Representative Stephen Kulik of Worthington. State representatives Peter Kocot of Northampton and John Scibak of South Hadley took part by video conference.

While WMUA was not represented at the meeting, Fitzgibbons explained that “there had been past conversations that involved the station and we had reached a point where these people wanted to talk to the chancellor.”

Kulik, who helped organize the meeting, expressed that he “’had hoped there might be some movement on (the) issue’” of the amount of polka programming, according to an articleby the Daily Hampshire Gazette. As part of WMUA’s restructuring that began in December, non-student programming was limited to 24 hours per week, which in turn reduced polka programming from 12 to four hours each week.

However, Kulik said the meeting did not produce the outcome he wanted. Fitzgibbons said that the chancellor stuck by WMUA’s decision to limit community programming.

“Basically what happened at the meeting was the chancellor emphasized that the decision to reduce the program was final and he expressed support for the student management,” Fitzgibbons said. “The leadership there had the authority to make those changes.”

The Gazette reported that Kulik brought up the issue that $24,000 of the $28,000 raised during the fall fund drive came during polka programming, to which the chancellor agreed to negotiate.

“We’re going to move forward to contact people who made donations during the pledge drive and ask if they want a refund,” Fitzgibbons explained. The Office of Student Affairs, the Bursar’s Office and WMUA will be working together to track down the donor list and offer refunds.

Andrew DesRochers, general manager of WMUA, said that while the fundraiser is “something that we hold very crucial to us,” that “the majority of the station’s funding comes from student activities and the budget request through (the Student Government Association).”

Fitzgibbons added that the University is still in the process of hiring a fulltime advisor for WMUA, another change that is an effect of the restructuring initiative.

“Once that person is in there, the issue of community programming could be revisited,” he said. The University hopes to have an advisor in place by the fall semester.

Another potential solution, Fitzgibbons said, would be to transfer the polka programming to another station.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve reached out to WHMP in Northampton about them possibly taking on the polka programming,” he said. While he claims the station seems receptive, David Musante, president and general manager for the Northampton Radio Group which oversees WHMP, had no comment on whether discussions had occurred, according to the Gazette.

DesRochers said that while he wishes WMUA was invited to take part in the meeting, he is “really grateful for the chancellor’s commitment…to student empowerment, leadership and activism on campus.”

DesRochers said that WMUA still intends to hold fundraisers and he is confident in the station’s ability to sustain itself and thrive, regardless of the chancellor’s decision to offer refunds.

“We are a student business and we know that in the next year, we’ll be running as efficiently as ever,” he said. “We’ll continue to grow our brand… For sure, it’s going to be a bright one for us next year.”

Shelby Ashline can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Shelby_Ashline.

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