Competition for dwindling donations is partially behind the power struggle that led to Southern Oregon University's termination of Jefferson Public Radio's executive director.
Ron Kramer received a termination letter Friday after university officials grew increasingly frustrated over a relationship that has mingled assets of JPR, the university system and the JPR Foundation.
Jim Beaver, spokesman for SOU, said the chancellor's office of the Oregon University System grew alarmed at news accounts of JPR taking on $7 million in debt for projects to renovate the Holly Theatre and a new headquarters building for JPR in Medford on 10th Street.
"This is taking it to a whole new level," he said of JPR's expansion plans.
The multi-million dollar fundraising campaigns that would be required to pay for those projects would leave less money for SOU's own fundraising efforts in the Southern Oregon, he said.
"The state is reducing funds faster than we can raise tuition and enrollment," Beaver said. "A lot of public agencies are wondering how they are going to go forward."
Kramer said Monday he was surprised that SOU would acknowledge that the competition for donations played such a big role in the issue. He also said SOU's decision could seriously damage the redevelopment efforts in Medford, as well as the radio station.
Work already has begun on the Holly Theatre, with the city's urban renewal agency committing $300,000 to the effort.
"I think what they are doing is essentially capsizing the Medford projects, but in doing so damaging the radio stations," Kramer said.
Kramer has been executive director of JPR since 1974 and has seen the broadcasting outlet grow from a small campus station to a regional public radio service reaching a 60,000-square-mile area of Southern Oregon and Northern California via the largest translator network in public radio.
While the Oregon University System is now raising concerns about JPR's fundraising activities, in the past it supported similar efforts. Both the university system and SOU approved of the JPR Foundation's fundraising efforts to renovate the Cascade Theatre in Redding, Calif., a project similar to the Holly Theatre effort in Medford.
In fact, the Oregon University System owns the Cascade Theatre. That, however, is different in the university's eyes, Beaver said.
"It's one thing raising money in Redding, but it's another thing to raise money in the Rogue Valley," Beaver said.
The foundation also owns transmitters and other equipment used by JPR for broadcasting in Northern California and Southern Oregon.
Beaver said SOU would have preferred that an audit of JPR and the foundation launched by the university system had been resolved before Kramer was notified of his termination.
Last Thursday, the university and the JPR Foundation agreed to mediation to resolve their differences. But on Friday, Kramer received the termination letter from SOU President Mary Cullinan removing him from his position as JPR's executive director after June 30.
Beaver said the dispute over Kramer's dual roles has been ongoing and has led to frustrations for SOU officials and the university system.
A task force of SOU and Oregon University System representatives looked into the matter last year, but no resolution was found, Beaver said.
Deadlines for a resolution passed, then were extended, and still no resolution was found, he said.
Out of this frustration, Beaver said, the termination letter was handed to Kramer.
Kramer said he thinks the university hoped he would offer his resignation when it gave him the termination letter. But he vowed to continue to push against any university efforts that would undermine JPR.
Kramer said JPR had no choice but to increase its revenue stream because the university system has cut its share of the radio station's funding by 50 percent over the years. He said he is being attacked by the university for his dual leadership roles when other employees in the university system perform similar duties with foundations. Kramer specifically cited Sylvia Kelly, who is vice president for development for SOU and is also the executive director of the SOU Foundation.
Beaver responded that Kelly is paid by the university, but not by the foundation. He said her dual roles also are not part of the audit.
Kramer's salary is $94,728, about $12,500 of which comes from the foundation, according to tax forms filed by the foundation. Kramer estimated it could cost $250,000 to create another administration to run the foundation. He said many of the administrative functions of the foundation are performed by JPR station staff.
Beaver said he wasn't aware whether Kramer was offered the chance to retain his job as executive director of the radio stations if he would step down as executive director of the foundation.
Kramer said that option was never placed on the table.
Diane Saunders, spokeswoman for the Office of the Chancellor for the Oregon University System, said, "This has been blown out of proportion because a lot of big personalities are involved."
She said the university system is just looking for a clearer separation between JPR and its fundraising arm, the foundation. She said the university system audit found too many instances in which the foundation's and the radio station's assets have been mingled.
"You need to split apart these two entities," she said. "They are too entangled."
Saunders was unaware that the university system owned the Cascade Theatre or that the university system had supported spending millions of dollars on its renovation.
Minutes from the Oregon State Board of Higher Education on June 18, 1999 state, "The financial structure of the proposal has been reviewed by Chancellor's Office staff and by the bond counsel. The terms of the purchase agreement have been reviewed by the Department of Justice for legal sufficiency."
Saunders said there are other universities where university employees also work on foundations because of cost-saving efforts on the part of the university system.
She acknowledged those dual roles could create problems, but said they are not comparable to the kind of overlapping leadership and operations that exist between JPR and its foundation.
"It's not quite the same situation," she said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email email@example.com.