The University is Expanding

The campus of the University of North Florida has grown dramatically in the past decade, adding, renovating or overhauling dozens of buildings, a construction boom that has rendered the campus almost unrecognizable to even recent alumni.

But the school is expanding in other ways — beyond the borders of academia and the confines of its Southside campus, into the broader landscape of Jacksonville. Two years after partnering with the then-struggling-to-survive Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, the college plans a similar joint venture with the financially strapped local NPR radio and television affiliate WJCT. The partnerships — essential in both cases to keep the cultural institutions in question solvent — clearly expand both the breadth and reach of the university.

UNF President John Delaney says that involvement in the two organizations fits the university’s mission of relevance. “We want to be relevant to the cultural, civil and economic needs of Northeast Florida,” he wrote in a recent email to Folio Weekly.

For WJCT, the support from UNF comes not a moment too soon. WJCT has faced waves of cutbacks since the 2008 economic collapse, but Gov. Rick Scott’s budget this past year delivered a near-death blow. Scott eliminated all funding for public broadcasting in the state, clipping $500,000 from the NPR affiliate’s $5.7 million budget. The station, which had balanced previous cuts through staff attrition and voluntary salary reductions, was left with no choice but to begin cutting programming. The station cancelled programs, including staples like the long-running “Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor,” a show that practically defines public radio, as well as programs like “Tell Me More.” WJCT President and CEO Michael Boylan says the loss of funding was so large, it was no longer possible to “cut our way to financial solvency.” Other solutions were needed.

The partnership with UNF, Boylan says, “will help us gain stability.” Though discussions are still in the formative stage, it’s possible the school will take over some of the station’s administrative functions such as bookkeeping, employee benefits and groundskeeping, as well as pay for utilities, repairs, cleaning and other operational expenses. If UNF absorbs the operational costs, the school would in return be able to use WJCT’s facilities as a teaching environment, and possibly play a role in producing programming. Boylan envisions utilizing research of UNF professors ?as the basis of local roundtable discussions, and says he expects some monetary infusion as part of that relationship. Delaney envisions the ?school also broadcasting lectures, concerts and maybe even UNF sporting events, though he stressed that the talks between UNF and WJCT are “very preliminary.”

For the University of North Florida, the relationships with WJCT and MOCA bring prestige. “It gives UNF students opportunities for experiences, such as working on art exhibits, showing at a local museum or working on a local radio show that other colleges might not be able to offer their student body,” says Sharon Ashton, assistant vice president for public relations. “For faculty at the schools, the partnership offers ways to communicate their work more broadly.”

The synergies available in the school’s relationship with MOCA were evidenced in the exhibit “Shared Vision,” which was co-curated by UNF assistant professor of photography Paul Karabinis and MOCA curator Ben Thompson. “UNF held classes at MOCA. It gives us a presence downtown,” says

Ashton. “Similarly, anywhere that WJCT reaches in our five-county area, it will add to our presence there.”

“It will give people a greater appreciation of our community as a whole as well as provide us with more locally generated content by introducing audiences to some of the research being done locally,” says CEO Boylan. “I see it as a win-win.”