The dispute between the JPR Foundation (JPRF) and Southern Oregon University (SOU) over how JPR should be organized and governed has been front and center in recent weeks. The current status of the conflict is that a 90-day “cooling off period” has been brokered by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s office during which a second round of mediation between the two parties will be conducted with the goal of finding common ground and developing solutions to the disagreement. In my view, this conflict has taken on a life of its own due in large part to a lack of adequate information as well as a lack of understanding by both parties about how JPR’s many inter-related parts operate together. Controversial audit opinions combined with proposed bylaw changes by the Foundation and corresponding threats of personal lawsuits by SOU have exacerbated this problem, eroding trust between the organizations and hampering their ability to effectively communicate.
To get negotiations back on track, leaders of both SOU and the JPR Foundation recently have taken significant steps to attain a better understanding of how JPR as a “department” of SOU and the JPR Foundation, the non-profit group founded to help JPR, have been built over the years, how they work together on a daily basis to support each other and how future structures can be developed that will enable JPR to flourish and serve the region. I believe the basis for all discussions moving forward should:
1. Acknowledge the valuable partnership that has existed for over four decades between SOU and the citizen leaders who represent JPR’s listeners to create one of the most accomplished public radio networks in the nation.
2. Create a governing framework that features transparency, accountability for decisions and operational efficiency while encouraging a culture that attracts inspired leaders and staff.
3. Establish clear, well-defined organizational relationships between JPR and the innovative projects it has spawned (like Redding’s Cascade Theatre, Medford’s Holly Theatre and the proposed Jefferson Square Development) giving them the best opportunity to succeed.
4. Honor the traditions on which JPR has been built yet focus on JPR’s future strategic opportunities and challenges in a changing media environment.
Despite the very emotionally-charged tone this dispute has taken in recent weeks, there is a burgeoning desire on the part of both SOU and the JPR Foundation to recognize their common purpose and work toward finding solutions. During the coming weeks, both JPRF and SOU leaders should come together to openly explore the strengths and weaknesses of various organizational options with the goal of reaching a consensus on the best way to move forward. If we engage in this process with the goal of creating great institutions that are built to serve the public and are able to avoid the “winner/loser” paradigm that has been an unfortunate by-product of the current debate, I believe we can all emerge recommitted to a positive vision for public service with the tools necessary to make that vision a reality.