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MCLA Students Upset After Radio Course Removed

Radio enthusiasts at the Massachusetts College Of Liberal Arts want answers after a radio course was removed from the spring schedule.

Jacob Vitali is the president of WJJW FM, MCLA’s radio station since 1973.

“We have programming of all kinds – whether you’re looking for hip hop, vaporwave, rock and roll – we even have polka,” Vitali told WAMC.

He’s incensed over the college making its Radio Practicum course unavailable to students this semester.

“This class is taught by Jim Niebalski," Vitali says. "He’s also the station’s advisor.”

Niedbalski – former a reporter and copy editor of the now shuttered North Adams Transcript – is an adjunct professor of journalism. Vitali credits him with the development and expansion of the station over the last decade.

“This is a guy who’s here until 10, 11 o’clock at night sometimes," says Vitali. "Really committed professor, and really does a great job trying to support the students, really trying to work with them and develop them into great broadcasters and also great writers too.”

Vitali says students learned that the Radio Practicum course would not be offered abruptly – three days into the semester with only four days before the add/drop period closed.

“There was an email sent to the students who had been planning to take this course last Friday, and that was an email sent directly to the students from the dean of academic operations Deb Foss and that email basically said that we are not in the position to approve this course by arrangement and it suggested that they find an alternative class or take an internship in place of Radio Practicum,” he told WAMC.

The course exists in a sort of gray area.

“We’ve been told that this class was never canceled because it’s not a scheduled course – which in a sense is true, because the course is only offered as a course by arrangement so it would never show up as a scheduled course,” admitted Vitali.

Technicality aside, Vitali says the decision to not offer the course circumvented not just him and the station but also Niedbalski and English/Communications department chair Professor Paul LeSage. He says students should have been informed earlier, and was concerned about the repercussions of the late announcement.

“There are also students who I know of too who might be in risk of losing their full-time student status or they may not have adequate credits in order to graduate,” Vitali said.

He wants the college to offer the course again and improve communication between the school and its students.

“We really do have an opportunity like no other student organization on this campus to connect with MCLA and North Adams and surrounding communities outside of North Adams too,” said Vitali.

“The course was never on the schedule for spring, so therefore it was never canceled," said MCLA Vice President of Academic Affairs Emily Williams. “Several students had signed up for a CBA, but Radio Practicum is neither an elective at this time nor a requirement for students in the broadcast media concentration, so therefore it was not projected forward. Students have enough electives to take this particular semester.”

“There were no students in this group who were at any time in risk of not being able to carry a full-time load or to be in a position where they would not be able to graduate in May," said Dean of Academic Operations Deborah Foss. She says Radio Practicum began in 2001 as part of a larger sequence of radio education.

Williams says decisions about the kind of course by arrangement that Radio Practicum fell into are her office’s to make.

“When students gather the requisite signatures from the designated professor and the apartment chair, they then bring those forms to academic affairs, to the dean, and that decision is made there,” she explained to WAMC.

Williams said she met with MCLA’s student government Monday night.

“I offered all of the students that may have wanted to take this particular course by arrangement that I would enroll them directly in a class that was open that fit any requirements they needed, and today the president held an open hour discussion and many of those students and faculty were present, as well as the department chair Paul LeSage, and I offered that same support to all of the students that wanted to take this CBA, to enroll them in another course," she told WAMC. "So, I stand ready to support them in that way.”

For his part, Vitali’s belief in the transformative power of radio hasn’t dimmed. He credits the station with helping students become better public speakers, create branding around their shows, and opening professional opportunities outside of school.

“And these are skills that being a part of other organizations on campus – that I don’t think you can learn quite like being a part of our college radio station,” said the station manager.

And while we at WAMC hope you’ll take our word for it, WJJW remains on the air.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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