University Station Alliance

Linking public broadcasting stations and their university partners since 2001

Thoughts about Public Radio from a University President

Dr. John C. Cavanaugh has been a supporter of his campus public radio station, WUWF, since he became President of the University of West Florida in 2002. He was recently asked his thoughts about the relationship between the station and college and why public radio is important to a college.

President Cavanaugh received his master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from the University of Notre Dame and is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Gerontological Society of America and a charter fellow of the Association for Psychological Science. He was an American Council on Education Fellow. He is the author or coauthor of 12 books and more than 70 articles and chapters on topics in aging, teaching, information technology and higher education. He served as the chair of the

State University President’s Association for the state of Florida, and as president of the Florida Association of Colleges and Universities.

Prior to assuming the presidency at UWF, Cavanaugh held faculty and administrative positions at Bowling Green State University, the Medical College of Ohio, the University of Delaware and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and was a visiting professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Questions and Answers from Dr. Cavanaugh

Why is operating a public radio station important to my institution?

Having public radio as a part of the university’s arsenal is essential. It is the aural embodiment of the university’s commitment to serving the community. It is a daily reminder to listeners of the university’s impact on quality of life and intellectual discourse. It extends the university’s sphere of influence beyond the physical boundaries of its campuses, complements its online presence, and enhances its credibility among discerning listeners. A university without public radio is an institution without a voice.

What should my expectations be for the radio station?

My expectation is that the station be provocative in the way in which it informs the public on key issues, assuring that all the facets of an issue are represented. It is very easy to lock in early to one perspective and public radio has the opportunity to say “it’s not that simple, it’s much more complicated than that.” It’s a place where you don’t reduce everything down to a sound bite, where you have the opportunity to educate the public.

How do I measure the station’s success?

Is it presenting issues in a provocative yet even-handed manner? Is it educating the public? When I meet people in the community, do they comment on particular stories? Do they tell me they value our services in times of crisis? Is it in effect marketing the university as an extension beyond our physical presence? Are people finding out about the university by discovering WUWF first?

What are my responsibilities in respect to the station?

To ensure that the station has the resources it needs to fulfill its mission. To ensure that the station is accountable to donors. To make sure that every effort is made to tie the activities of the station into the university’s academic mission.

To whom should the station report?

Philosophically speaking, the most important reporting line is to the public. Secondarily, it is important that the president be personally involved in the operation. Beyond that, every vice president should be aware of the activities of the station and how supporting those activities can benefit their areas of responsibility. Public radio touches every aspect of the university and it’s not easy to pigeonhole it. For that reason, reporting to the office of the president makes the most sense. Like public radio, the president’s office cuts across all the facets of the university and reaches out into the community.

Should the primary mission of the station be driven by academics or public service?

My personal bias is that the station should be more public service oriented, as long as it is still tightly connected to the overall academic mission of the institution.

How overtly should the station promote the university?

There is a fine line between too much self-promotion and imbedding in your programming mix the notion that there is so much going on at the university that you couldn’t possibly set aside segments and cover everything fairly. Demonstrating that there is expertise underlying everything you do raises the tide higher than trying to single out individual programs of excellence. Using faculty as resources for program development and on-air as subject matter experts is the most effective way to promote the institution.