For over 15 years, I have talked about Northwest weather, the weekend forecast, and education-related topics on KUOW during Friday's morning's Weekday program.
I have done so as my attempt at educational outreach, to go beyond the basic forecasts given on other media, providing the why behind the weather and to allow local residents a chance to appreciate the grand complexity of the weather of this beautiful area of the world. And occasionally to talk about related educational issues.
Starting tomorrow, I will not have the opportunity to do so anymore on KUOW. On Monday I received an email from Weekday host Steve Scher informing me that the regular weather segments on Weekday will be discontinued.
Now if this was a simple issue of the weather program getting stale, of a need for a new format on Weekday, or of listeners wishing a change, I would not complain. I would have thanked Steve for the opportunity to talk about local weather all these years and moved on.
But that is not what happened.
And the real reasons for the termination of the my segment are more ominous and disturbing. And as I will explain, it has much in common with the recent termination of Principal Martin Floe by Seattle Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield.
My involvement with KUOW began in the mid 90s when I was contacted by them to replace the previous weather person, Art Rangno. I told them that I was not interested in just giving the forecast, but wanted to do scientific outreach, trying to follow (in a modest way) the footsteps of one of my mentors, Carl Sagan, who convinced me that scientists had to communicate directly with the public. I offered KUOW a hybrid: a weather forecast/weather 101 combination and that was accepted.
For over ten years I followed that route, first starting with Dave Beck, Marci Sillman, and Steve Scher and then later only Steve. Many of you seemed to enjoy the material and increasingly I heard from you over the phone and then emails (now several dozen a week). I also started talking about other topics. First, the need for a coastal radar--and the letters and efforts of many of you helped make that happen. But by the early 2000s I started talking about my concerns in education. I am just not a scientist, I am an educator as well--by now having instructed many thousands of students at all levels. I started seeing degradations in math skills and a few times a year I began talking about it and my concerns for the future of our nation.
Sometimes I talked about science education, such as issues with the Seattle Science Center (to their credit, after a discussion on air about it, Bryce Seidel, the director, invited me down to talk about my concerns. And I note that he was responsive in many ways to my concerns--such as the need to entrain more regional scientists in Science Center programs).
But things changed a few years ago. A new producer for Weekday was taken on--Katy Sewall--and on a program I remember well, I talked not only about the problem of declining math skills, but what I thought was the reason--the proliferation of discovery ("fuzzy") math books and the poor instruction by the Schools of Education, including the UW.
A short while later Katy contacted me, telling me I was no longer allowed to talk about math and that Steve concurred. I asked why--she said there were several complaints from the UW Education folks and that it was against "journalistic ethics" to allow me talk about such issues. This went back and forth for a while and I asked to see both Steve and Katy to talk it out.
Their argument--that as a "regular" I was essentially part of KUOW news and thus I could not give my opinion without someone else providing the other side. I noted that I am hardly part of the KUOW news team, clearly indicated my opinions were my own, and they let other "regulars" give their opinions on all sorts of societal issues.
Case in point: Rick Steves. He is the travel guy who is on KUOW all the time. On virtually every recent KUOW visit, he talked about his "passion"--the legalization of pot. They didn't seem to need the other side after he talked about that! So pushing pot legalization is ok, but pushing good math books is not. I just did not follow their logic. And why wasn't my talking about math issues a problem for the previous decade? What had suddenly changed? Were they just giving in to internal UW pressure from the UW Ed School? Was is the fact the UW College of Education was a major contributor to KUOW? I just did not know.
But they remained adamant--if I talked about education topics there was no place for me on KUOW. Remember that I had never talked about non-meteorological issues more than a few times a year at most and I AM a scientist-educator. I regretfully agreed to pull back on talking about math, with their promise there would be some dedicated programs on math. Those programs never materialized.
So we had somewhat of a truce for a year or so, until a few weeks ago.
The Seattle Times had a front page article about UW rejecting strong "straight A" students. And there was more talk about how the UW was rejecting great in-state students so that inferior out of state students could be accepted for big bucks. Joni Balter of the Seattle Times had a big op-ed piece in the paper a few days later saying many of the same things, and during the previous week this issue had been discussed during the second hour of Friday Weekday.
The problem was that I knew from first-hand knowledge that the ST article was highly deceptive and in many ways wrong. The UW does not reject strong straight A students--if someone with an A average gets rejected it is because there was an issue--easy classes, poor SATs scores, or the like. And the truth is that out of state students are generally stronger than in-state applicants. And do you know that the average UW freshman had a high school GPA of 3.75! That is pretty much an A. Grade inflation is a huge issue.
I know all this from first-hand knowledge as the undergraduate adviser for my department, with access to the admissions info, and having talked to the UW Dean of Admissions.
Anyway, because they ran out of time in the first segment, they moved me to right after the 10 AM news--during the "week in review" segment. After giving the weather I then mentioned a few of the facts noted above and had a discussion with Joni and the rest.
That conversation--trying to insure that KUOW listeners had accurate information about UW admissions--- sealed my doom on KUOW. Shortly later, I got a threatening note from Katy:
"Talking about other issues in this context is not acceptable. It does not fit the segment we are offering listeners. If it happens again, we will cancel your weekly appearance."
And her email went downhill from there. I told her that after such a provocative email I would wait a while before responding.
Last weekend I wrote an email to Steve, saying that I would try to work with them, but I could not guarantee that I would never talk about any other subject but the weather forecast. Remember--this is public radio.
A day later I got an email from Steve where he said that the regular weather segments would be terminated.
So that is the story. Not a pretty one.
For me the essence of local public radio is to serve as a focus for the discussion of local issues. You would think there would be room for a scientist-educator, someone interested in talking not only about science, but about the interface between science and how we educate our youth in technical subjects. You would think that Steve and Katy would consider their viewers who have enjoyed learning about local weather. But something else was more important--their wish that I remain "the weekend forecast guy". In fact, during the past year, the time they allowed for my segment has progressively decreased, so that I rarely had enough time to coherently complete even my local weather explanations.
So does my situation parallel the Enfield-Floe case? I got into trouble for criticizing the local education orthodoxy (at the UW)---it appears he did the same thing (with the Seattle School District bureaucracy). He was dropped with little apparent reason. I was dropped for reasons that I believe are without merit.
The question is what will happen now. If you have enjoyed what I have done in the past and wish it to continue, perhaps this can be turned around. Perhaps if enough of you---listeners to KUOW, contributors to KUOW, and those interested in public radio can contact the folks at KUOW they might change their mind...in the same way Superintendent Enfield changed her mind when the teachers and students at their school learned of the firing of their principal (some KUOW emails are found below)
My other option is to try other approaches: perhaps a podcast on my blog or moving to another radio station. Anyway, thanks for listening. Whatever happens, I have enjoyed the interactions with many of you over the years.
And I promise to get back to weather on my next blog!
KUOW News Director:
Guy Nelson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chair of UW Board:
Allen Steinman: email@example.com
Wayne Roth, KUOW President and CEO