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March 28, 2019; WBUR

There are many twists to the dynamic of “disappearing CEOs” at nonprofits around the country, and in the case of Boston’s WBUR, a public radio broadcaster, the apparent removal of its General Manager Charlie Kravetz by the station’s parent, Boston University (BU), without consulting the station’s board of overseers has sparked a drive for organizational independence. Board members say they felt blindsided by the decision and unheard when they protested.

Final fiduciary responsibility, of course, resides with BU, but the move is clearly playing outside of agreed-upon bounds. Indeed, the whole situation is a little murky, as BU and Kravetz go to the well-worn “mutual agreement” language. As Commonwealth Magazine reports it,

Paul La Camera, who preceded Kravetz as general manager and continued to advise the station, said in an email to friends that Kravetz was leaving “under unfortunate circumstances.” La Camera also said he would be leaving the station along with his longtime friend, according to a WBUR report.  “It’s just too sad and too uncomfortable for me to remain here,” he said.

Board chair Paul Gannon is saying little in public beyond a statement declaring that all involved want the station to prosper, but emails obtained by WBUR’s own newsroom suggest that the board “overwhelmingly supports” pursuing “the concept of a spinout.”

The formal statement is more restrained, reading, “Boston University and the WBUR Board of Overseers are exploring governance models for WBUR that might better leverage the commitment of both parties. Boston University has no plans of transferring ownership of the station; however, it is premature to comment about the possible outcomes of these ongoing discussions.”

Indeed, there are arrangements that could provide a modified shared governance model, according to Ernie Sanchez, the founding general counsel for National Public Radio. He mentions the example of an independent decision-making board for a public radio station within a university structure. “That could go on for a long time or it could turn into a sale,” Sanchez said. Additionally, the station’s staff just elected for a union, and staff benefit considerations are also top of mind.

In short, this situation has many complexities, including the fact that any change in ownership of the WBUR license must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission. All in all, it appears that the treasured local resource of WBUR is caught in one of those never-never-land situations where care in relationship management is everything and trust has been broken.—Ruth McCambridge