By Mike Kaszuba
By February of this year, the letters were rolling in recommending that the University of Minnesota rename its journalism school after the Hubbard family, the radio and television pioneers who had created a media conglomerate centered around KSTP-TV.
One letter came from Sam Donaldson, the longtime ABC-TV anchor and White House correspondent. He told the school “that while Stanley S. Hubbard, the Chairman and CEO of Hubbard Broadcasting since 1983, has strong personal views, the broadcast outlets he controls do not censor or shut out opposing views.”
But the push to rename the school after the family – which formally occurred July 1 — was not without its bumps, according to documents obtained by Public Record Media, a non-profit based in St. Paul. And it came as the university and KSTP-TV tangled over stories the television station was airing regarding the university.
“I know how careful institutions must be in naming schools,” wrote Jeffrey Herbst, the then-president of the Newseum, the Washington, D.C. interactive museum devoted to the importance of the media and the First Amendment. But “I think, frankly, that any university would be honored to have the Hubbard name attached to a school of journalism.” Hubbard Broadcasting had donated $5 million to the Newseum, and Stanley E. Hubbard II has been on the Newseum’s board of trustees.
At the University of Minnesota, the proposed name change led to an internal debate. In a March e-mail, Vickie Courtney, the director of the University Awards and Honors program, wrote that a majority of a committee considering the school’s renaming was in favor of the move. But she added that some members had raised questions about whether the school was honoring the family’s contributions to journalism or the Hubbards’ hefty financial contributions to the university.
“A couple of members asked if it was a ‘pay for play’,” Courtney wrote in a March 13 e-mail message. Eleven days before, in a separate e-mail, she explained to the committee that “the intent is not to recognize financial contributions.” Rather, it would be an “honorific” naming. She added that the final vote, while not unanimous, approved the renaming by a wide margin.
In addition, Courtney, while not detailing specifics, appeared to address Stanley S. Hubbard’s political activity. “Several of you voted yes to the nomination; others had some questions/concerns,” she wrote in a March 2 e-mail.
Political affiliation “does not disqualify”
She then added: “Regarding political affiliation or endorsement: contributing to a political campaign does not disqualify a naming – that is not listed in the criteria.”
The university’s process offered a glimpse into not only the Hubbard family’s contributions to journalism but its financial role at the school – and at least indirectly also called attention to Hubbard’s political contributions.
Hubbard had been a significant financial contributor to then-candidate Donald Trump, donating more than $100,000 last year to the Great America PAC, which supported the eventual Republican president, according to Federal Election Commission records.
FEC records show Stanley S. Hubbard also last year contributed to other high-profile Republican causes, including $100,000 to Team Ryan, the political action committee supporting Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. Stanley S. Hubbard, in addition, donated more than $75,000 in 2016 to the Republican National Committee, FEC documents showed.
The Hubbard family has likewise been generous to the University of Minnesota: the family, Hubbard Broadcasting and its affiliates have given roughly $25 million to 31 different units at the school over time, according to documents obtained by PRM. (Stanley S. Hubbard is an university alumnus).
The renaming, however, came at a delicate time.
At roughly the same time the school was planning the renaming, the university’s board of regents was reacting aggressively to a KSTP-TV story on sexual harassment allegations against a top fundraiser in the school’s athletic department.
In a meeting on May 11, the board of regents launched an inquiry to find out who had leaked “confidential information” on the case to the Hubbard-owned television station. It also took a further step: asking each regent and any university employee who had access to information regarding the sexual harassment allegations to sign affidavits saying they did not share confidential information with the media.
The board of regents also announced, in a university press release, that it would hire outside legal counsel and experts “to conduct a forensic investigation of electronic communications of individuals with access to the memo.”
The school’s statement added that “the [board of regents’] motion also signals to KSTP that the University is legally releasing KSTP from its apparent agreement of confidentiality with a Regent, and it encourages KSTP to reveal its Board source publicly.”
(The university announced in September that the investigation was inconclusive, and had ended).
The KSTP-TV story marked the second time in recent months that the television station had aired an exclusive story that was embarrassing to the university. Last December, KSTP-TV obtained an 80-page internal school report that detailed a sexual incident allegedly involving 12 university football players that occurred in September 2016.
The journalism school’s renaming meanwhile appeared to carry a sense of urgency, according to school documents. In a March 1 e-mail, Courtney, the university’s honors program director, told the committee that the school’s college of liberal arts “is hoping it would be able to make an announcement at an event it is holding in May – hence the reason we are doing this between [our regular] meetings.”
Kaler’s “Dear Stanley” letter
The board of regents unanimously approved the renaming of the journalism school at its March 24 meeting. Eric Kaler, the university’s president, wrote a letter to Stanley S. Hubbard three days later, on March 27. Kaler said in the letter, addressed to “Dear Stanley”, that he was “delighted” to inform him that the board of regents had approved the renaming in “recognition of your family’s unwavering commitment to the University and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.”
Three days later, on March 30, Kaler instructed Albert Tims, the journalism school’s then-director, to “contact (Hubbard) immediately to establish the date and discuss plans for the naming ceremony.”
The renaming though will occur in stages. Evan Lapiska, a university spokesman, told PRM that the renaming was publicly previewed in April, and formally occurred on July 1 as part of the school’s start of a new fiscal year. In addition, he said, a spring 2018 event would take place after allowing “for physical changes to take place like signage.”
Explained Lapiska: “There actually hasn’t been a delay. The spacing you are seeing is just the cadence of events for something like this.”
The Hubbards’ contributions to journalism – and to the university – have been substantial, according to university documents that were used to push for the journalism school’s renaming.
A university “nomination summary” explained that Stanley E. Hubbard created Minnesota’s first radio station in 1923 – WAMD, “Where All Minneapolis Dances” – and in 1938 purchased the first TV cameras to set up a closed circuit telecast. The summary added that KSTP-TV was the first full-color TV station, and the first local station to have late night news seven days a week.
In 1981, Hubbard established United States Satellite Broadcasting, and the Federal Communications Commission granted Hubbard Broadcasting “the first successful permit for direct broadcast satellite.” The school added that “this was the beginning of satellite TV as we know it today – a brand new industry employing literally thousands of people.” In 1999, Hubbard Broadcasting sold U.S. Satellite Broadcasting to DirecTV.
The Hubbard Radio Group, the school added, has more than 30 stations across the country. Hubbard Media Group, meanwhile, owns the Reelz Channel. And the Hubbard Television Group owns 10 stations across the U.S., including a 30 percent share in PodcastOne, the leading podcast network.
“The station was an early practitioner of investigative journalism [and] through enterprise reporting, KSTP regularly breaks major stories and uncovers important and exclusive information,” a university summary explained.
“Who bought the very first TV camera ever sold by RCA? The Hubbard family,” wrote Deborah Hopp, the vice president of MSP Communications, who co-wrote a letter to the university endorsing the renaming. “Who designed and built the first-ever local satellite news truck? The Hubbard family. And who mortgaged the company to bet on satellite TV when everyone in the industry thought it was downright crazy? The Hubbard family of course.”
The Hubbard family’s contributions to the university were also detailed in a letter from Tims, the journalism school’s then-director, who officially nominated the family for the renaming.
“They have funded numerous undergraduate scholarships, graduate research fellowships, graduate travel fellowships and senior fellow opportunities for our faculty,” Tims wrote to the university honors committee.
And the “Hubbard family has never asked anything more of our faculty than that we use their gifts to advance our mission and the priorities,” he added.