SRTV Ban Pressed by Admin

Weeks before the station was pulled off the air, top campus administrators privately discussed contingency plans that included stopping transmission of the Student-Run Television signal and appointing an administrator with power to veto programming decisions, according to 544 pages of internal e-mails obtained by the Guardian through California’s Public Record Act.

During the same period, administrators maintained publicly and in media interviews that they would largely allow student government leaders to handle the SRTV pornography on their own, with minimal university interference.

Since October, several administrators, including acting Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Life Gary R. Ratcliff and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson, contemplated applying rules and regulations to the station through tools such as a board to approve programming decisions, according to the documents.

Ratcliff’s plan, outlined in an e-mail sent in October, included a backup strategy that would give the university power over the station.

“I think our plan A should be to encourage A.S. to develop a program review board that is broad in its make up and that reviews program proposals to make sure they comply with their current rules and regulations,” Ratcliff stated in an e-mail to Watson on Oct. 6. “If A.S. does not successfully implement this board and SRTV airs a pornographic program, then we can say we gave students a chance to work [it] out and can justify moving to plan B in which the university, as the provider of the cable network system, issues rules and regulations to the stations that use this system.”

Ratcliff’s e-mail came one day after the A.S. Council tabled an SRTV nudity ban, effectively killing the measure after showings of pornography produced by and featuring John Muir College alumnus Steve York. After Watson approved of the plan, Ratcliff went further, suggesting that the board would run during a “trial period,” and emphasized the possibility of “granting [an] administrator veto power” in case the proposed student committee was “dysfunctional.”

Watson rebuffed the idea.

“I disagree on starting with one process and then changing it when we don’t like what the students do,” Watson replied to Ratcliff. “We should begin with an appropriately constituted board either at the A.S. level or above it.”

York and several members of the A.S. Council have long accused Watson of overstepping his bounds as an administrator. Initially, it was Watson who demanded that the council either establish a nudity ban or risk losing its control over the student station, according to A.S. President Christopher Sweeten.

E-mail correspondences from Watson’s office, however, paint a more complex picture of the vice chancellor’s views of student rights. After the council decided to add a provision to its station’s charter that banned “graphic depictions of sexual activity involving nudity” on SRTV, Watson’s office emphasized student control over the issue.

“This is now indeed an A.S.-SRTV matter and we need to continue to keep it in that arena as long as the A.S. is making real efforts to come to grips with its responsibilities,” Watson’s Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Edward Spriggs stated in an e-mail to Ratcliff and A.S. Adviser Lauren Weiner on Oct. 27. “It may not be linear or pretty over the next few weeks but, after all, as a university a big part of our work is student development and giving them room to make mistakes, and good guidance to help them with corrections.”

But later that same day, Spriggs expressed worry about SRTV’s control and accountability for its own content in a separate e-mail.

“Shouldn’t someone instruct the SRTV manager to obtain a description of the program BEFORE it airs to make sure it complies with the recently amended [station] charter in light of the controversy and scrutiny, to make sure it is NOT webcast again and to monitor the program so that if it DOES violate it can be taken offline?” Spriggs asked in an Oct. 27 e-mail to Ratcliff. “Should not this be done, even if it [is] rejected, so that the manager is on notice and can be held accountable for violating a request either by the university (through you if you are the one delivering the message), or the A.S.”

‘The drumbeat … is getting louder’

On Oct. 27, local media outlets informed student leaders of a press release sent out by York promising another pornographic broadcast on SRTV later that night. The news irked many administrators. In an e-mail sent to Associate Vice Chancellor of Communications Stacie Spector and Director of University Outreach Pat JaCoby, Ratcliff said he discussed the “prudence of allowing porn to be displayed” at Porter’s Pub with restaurant owner Robert Porter. JaCoby pushed for an administrative response in case York aired another porn.

“If Steve does go on with porn again, isn’t it time [the administration] took some action?” she said in an e-mail to Spector and Ratcliff during the day of Oct. 27. “The drumbeat from parents is getting louder.”

York’s name was blacked out in the copies provided to the Guardian, though still readable upon close inspection.

Both parents and alumni had been pressuring Chancellor Marye Anne Fox to take action against SRTV and the pornography airings. The UCSD Alumni Association received a “small but vehement response” to the broadcasts, which the association’s Executive Director John Valva forwarded to Fox. The chancellor also received several direct e-mails, which included comments such as “get off your ass and show authority” and “shame on you.”

By night’s end on Oct. 27, York had replayed his porn, this time with the face of Thurgood Marshall College Senior Senator Kate Pillon superimposed on an adult-film actress’ body. The segment sent campus administrators and the A.S. Council into a flurry. A.S. Vice President Finance Greg Murphy considered freezing SRTV’s funds, but, in an e-mail on Oct. 28, Weiner advised against taking action before discussion. Marshall Dean of Student Affairs Ashanti Houston Hands then accused the administration of dragging its feet in addressing the issue, according to Watson.

“My meeting with the deans and particularly Ashanti did not go well on this matter,” he stated in a Nov. 2 e-mail to Spriggs. “I strongly reacted to Ashanti’s claim that the administration was not doing anything to protect and support students who speak up and are abused by the Koala.”

Two years ago, members of the high-profile publication released e-mails showing that Houston Hands had played a role in coordinating an anti-Koala protest. In an e-mail to Spriggs, the dean called the Oct. 27 show “inappropriate and vile.”

Following the York airing, Marshall administrators began mobilizing efforts against the porn, which included using “recent SRTV issues as a frame for questions of community, identity, citizenship, civility and respect for one another” in the college’s core Dimensions of Culture classes, Houston Hands stated in a Nov. 2 e-mail to Spriggs.

Spriggs responded to Watson, highlighting the divide the pornography was exposing between colleges within UCSD.

“This points out an interesting and at once disturbing and exciting difference between ‘cultures’ in the colleges, specifically Muir vs. Marshall,” Spriggs said. “What makes this interesting is that the differences in ways of addressing the SRTV issue result in part from different approaches in mission, GE requirements and leadership (student and staff).”

Students on the John Muir College Council had passed a resolution decrying the council’s decision to censure sexual forms of nudity from SRTV, while the Marshall Student Council’s resolution condemned the porn.

‘Off for good’

In the week after York’s broadcast featuring Pillon, administrators began to explore the avenue of shutting off SRTV’s signal. At the request of Ratcliff, Cynthia Davalos, special assistant to Watson, corresponded with Telecommunications Services Director Don McLaughlin.

“All that [McLaughlin] would need [to shut down SRTV] is written instruction from Dr. Watson’s office,” she stated in an Oct. 31 e-mail to Ratcliff.

On Nov. 3, Spriggs gave McLaughlin consent through an e-mail to shut down the station if he was requested to do so by A.S. Commissioner of Student Services Maurice Junious, Murphy or Commissioner of Communications Soap Chum.

That night, Murphy made a call to McLaughlin to shut down the station because of what he called an “unscheduled” show. The station has been off the air ever since.

“Does this mean that it is off for good until they come up with a defensible charter or until morning today?” Fox asked her Chief of Staff Clare Kristofco in a Nov. 5 e-mail.

“It is off until they come up with a defensible charter,” Kristofco stated in a response.

The chancellor replied to the statement with one word: “Good.”