Rehabilitating CUTV

  • Photo Erin Sparks

The campus and community television station that was catapulted into the national spotlight and made Internet-famous for their insatiable daily coverage of the Quebec student strike earlier this year is now facing serious internal turmoil.

After months of growing tensions between members, resignations of Board directors, senior staff, financial confusion and mismanagement, Concordia University Television came to a grinding halt midway through October.

Over the summer months, a transitional agreement was put in place between CUTV and the umbrella organization Concordia Student Broadcasting Corporation, which oversees the governance of both CUTV and CJLO, Concordia’s student radio station.

The agreement would see the assets of CUTV be transferred to a new and independent not-for-profit organization.

A provisional Board of Directors was put in place to oversee this transition. The board consisted of CUTV’s then-station manager Laura Kneale, former program director Laith Marouf and staff member Abel Alegria.

“There was a certain breakdown of relations between the board and management at the station,” said Justin Giovannetti, president of the CSBC and president of The Link’s Board of Directors.

“The station was largely, at least from the Board’s point of view, ungovernable. They were acting as though they were independent, so I guess the only logical choice was then to grant them independence.”

The agreement states that, effective June 1, the transition would be complete once this provisional Board drafted a new set of bylaws, elected a proper BoD and held a referendum to allow students to vote on the absorption of CUTV’s student fee-levy.

On Oct. 20, the entirety of the provisional BoD resigned, and an emergency Board had to be instated by the CSBC.

“Myself and some other staff felt that we could not be staff and employers at the same time, so we stepped down,” said Marouf in an interview with The Link.

According to a CSBC motion, Kneale resigned two days later from her position as station manager following “increasing tension with staff members.”

Despite making several attempts to contact Kneale, The Link could not reach her for comment by press time.

“Personal conflicts broke out, and it got to the point that people couldn’t really come to work because it didn’t feel good,” said Wendy Kraus-Heitmann, who makes up—along with CUTV and CSBC member Sabine Friesinger—the emergency provisional BoD. “It was a hostile environment.”

According to the CSBC motion, the tumult that followed the resignations led to a loss of financial control that imperiled the student funds that CUTV receives—34 cents per credit from each Concordia undergraduate student.

The Lockdown

Following the breakdown between staff and the Board, Concordia received a request from the CSBC to change the locks on the CUTV premises, “to ensure the safety of assets.”

Several CUTV members came to The Link last week to explain that they had been locked out and could not access equipment, but that meetings were being held in the offices. All members asked to remain anonymous and that their comments remain off the record.

“It was a decision that was made by the provisional Board of CUTV following the departure of the manager,” said Patrice Blais, faculty member of the CSBC who, prior to Kraus-Heitmann, was also on the provisional Board.

“If you ask for the keys back and you don’t get a response, you have to change the locks,” said Blais. “It’s as simple as that […] I don’t want to accuse anyone of anything, but you know that if it was done this way, it was for good reason.”

After a mediation session held by the CSBC, no solutions to solve the staff conflict could be agreed upon and, according to the motion, “further mediation was deemed unfruitful.”

“Some people said that it had come to a point that they had to close down the station just to work on talking to each other and coming to some sort of agreement so that they could go to work and feel comfortable again,” said Kraus-Heitmann.

During the Oct. 30 meeting, the CSBC decided that it had become necessary to authorize for the immediate freezing of CUTV’s internal account that held students’ fees, “until a more harmonious situation is established.”

However, the next day, before the CSBC could request that the account be frozen, Concordia had already stepped in.

“They had a dream, and it was a good dream. It just grew a little bit bigger than CUTV had the structure for. They grew like crazy, but CUTV will collapse on itself if we don’t get some better structures in place.”
—Wendy Kraus-Heitmann,
CUTV Provisional Board of Directors Member

“We collect all student fees, and we have a responsibility to ensure that the student funds are protected, especially in exceptional circumstances,” said university spokesperson Chris Mota. “We weren’t really clear on what was happening with the restructuring [of CUTV].

“So the university decided to temporarily freeze the accounts—everything except the payroll account, so that the employees would still be paid—until such a time as we could get some kind of clarification as to who is in charge, who the designated authorities are, and to whom do we transfer funds.”

According to Mota, discussions are being held between the university and the current provisional BoD at CUTV to assess the situation and decide how to proceed.

It is still unclear where within the administration the directive to freeze the accounts came from.

“Someone sees a red flag and communicates that there’s a problem, but it wasn’t one person,” said Mota. “But clearly, when this was starting to play out, someone made a decision that this was the best thing to do for the time being.”

Damage Control

On Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 the provisional BoD met with staff members at CUTV to lay down some ground rules, instruct members as to what their job descriptions would be and how they would proceed.

But come Monday, things had changed once again.

“Over the weekend we got a better grasp of the situation and what was going on,” said Kraus-Heitmann. “So this weekend the provisional Board looked at it and realized that CUTV was not financially sustainable in its current state.”

According to Kraus-Heitmann, the structure that CUTV was running under was not conducive to proper management. Some staff members were responsible for producing content, managing the station and keeping track of finances all at once.

At the time, CUTV was operating at $1,000 per day in payroll expenses between approximately 10 paid employees—a figure that the Board felt far exceeded the station’s financial abilities.

“We asked them to take drastic cuts in hours—every staff member; nobody was given a free ride—so that they could work at a much reduced schedule over the next month while we come up with a plan for financial stability while working on healing the internal issues and devising a structure,” said Kraus-Heitmann.

According to her, some staff members had their hours cut by as much as 75 per cent.

“Some people are used to working 40 hours a week, but that’s not going to be happening anymore,” she said.

One of the main problems was the rate at which CUTV was growing following the coverage of the student strike in Quebec this past spring.

“They had a dream, and it was a good dream,” said Kraus-Heitmann. “It just grew a little bit bigger than CUTV had the structure for. They grew like crazy, but CUTV will collapse on itself if we don’t get some better structures in place.”

As it stands, the duties of station manager are being spread around to other staff, and some positions might still be eliminated. The Board is considering hiring an organizational expert to help this process along.

“Right now our emergency priority is to get that station up and running again, not only so that staff can have work and get paid, but so students can have access to these resources,” said Kraus-Heitmann.

The goal is to have a mended structure and business plan in place by January so that the station can return to functioning normally by the spring.

Uptdate: The Link originally stated that Sabine Friesinger is a “staffer,” meaning a paid member of CUTV staff. In reality, Friesinger is a volunteer member of CUTV, one of two members of it’s provisional board of directors and a member of the CSBC. The Link regrets the error.

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