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Orange County Commentary

KOCE Watchers Debate: Sell High, or High Road?

Colleges should impart wisdom, not simply take a price-is-right approach

September 28, 2003|Hall Davidson | Hall Davidson is an adjunct instructor in the education department at Golden West College, a sister institution to Orange Coast College in the Coast Community College District, and director of education services at KOCE.

As a community college instructor -- and as someone whose job is at stake should KOCE be sold -- I read with unfathomable shock the report that the faculty at Orange Coast College through the Academic Senate had voted to urge the sale of KOCE to the highest bidder. I listened with dismay Sept. 6 as the senate reported its vote to the Coast Community College District board of trustees.

Communities depend on their colleges for wisdom, insight and measured perspective on difficult issues. At Orange Coast College, there are professors of philosophy, political science, religion, history, literature and more. Their collective decision simply to sell to the highest bidder is a discouraging snapshot of their scholarly approach to important issues.

Trinity Broadcasting Network, one of the two televangelist organizations that made the highest bids for KOCE, recently indicated that it thought the station should remain a public station instead. Should Trinity carry out its hint that it might withdraw from the bidding, the highest cash bidder would be Daystar. A visit to its Web site (www.daystar.com) is disturbing. They are open about their proudly stated discriminatory employment criteria: "The Word of God Fellowship, Inc. (a.k.a. the Daystar Television Network) only considers born-again Christian believers for employment."

This means no Jews, no Muslims, no Buddhists, no Hindus. Certainly, the majority of Orange Coast students would have a problem. The notion that a district would spend more than $20 million building up a television facility and then turn it over to such a group is a problem for me but apparently not a problem for the professors at Orange Coast College -- as long as the buyer makes the highest bid.

How could the academics at OCC support a new license holder that would openly institute a religious pogrom on their former fellow employees upon assuming ownership? This must surely be a problem for the philosophers, political scientists and theologians at OCC. But their voices are silent. It makes one wonder whether an institution that espoused discriminatory actions more violent than economic oppression would be acceptable if the price was right.

Most academics love to debate such issues. But at OCC, the vote was unanimous. Highest bid, no questions asked. Surely bringing such a mass-media owner into the remarkably harmonious diversity of Orange County is an issue not to be glossed over, whatever the price.

Academics serve the community by reminding it of the lessons of history. Recent history in license transfers makes it clear that the nature of the buyer may forestall a sale because of license challenges. In Pennsylvania, one of the great PBS stations, WQED Pittsburgh, wanted in 1996 to sell one of its two broadcast licenses to cover debts, technology upgrades, new productions and other worthy endeavors. It took six years of slogging through tens of thousands of letters and e-mails, legal challenges (and legal fees) before the Federal Communications Commission approved the commercializing of that community's second PBS channel. By then, the buyer was gone. In addition, FCC Chairman Michael Powell was just handed the biggest political rebuke in FCC history when Congress rejected an increased loss of local control through loosening media-ownership rules.

Choosing the higher bidder might thus postpone monetary gain for years. The California budget picture would inevitably have changed by then.

If a sale of a community asset is inevitable, and I personally hope it is not, then the role of the community's scholars should be to offer erudite advice, not the flawed simplicity of succumbing to the most money.

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