Home Social Justice OU tears free from Roger E. Ailes’ legacy

OU tears free from Roger E. Ailes’ legacy

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Marilyn Icsman contributed reporting.

President McDavis announced Monday night that the Roger E. Ailes Newsroom would be renamed, and the OU community breathed a sigh of relief.

“Given the allegations against Ailes and the circumstances surrounding his departure from Fox News, I’ve decided that the most appropriate action is to return Mr. Ailes’ gift and to remove his name from the WOUB newsroom,” McDavis said to Faculty Senate. “I have directed facilities to begin the process of physically removing his name from the newsroom.”

Mere minutes later, the silver lettering was torn from the newsroom wall, the plaque removed. Nothing remained but an imprint, both on the wall and on the web.

 

Legacy or lies, scholarship or scandal?

Roger Ailes served as WOUB’s student station manager for two years before graduating from OU with a degree in radio and television reporting in 1962. He went on to become the chairman and chief executive of FOX News. But his rise to success was fraught with sexual assault, allegations of which arose this summer.

What started with Gretchen Carlson, an on-air host who testified that Ailes sabotaged her career because she wouldn’t have sex with him, ended with at least 25 women who all reported the same story: Ailes is a criminal who treats women like sexual objects.

Meanwhile, at OU, the Roger E. Ailes Newsroom sign hung ominously in the hallway of the Radio-Television Center. It wasn’t long before sentiment built against the university’s silence, especially after the very same newsroom was the site of a sexual harassment investigation just last spring.

“It doesn’t set the right kind of ethical standards that we as students are trying to aspire to be,” Josh Gregory, OU junior and WOUB news and sports reporter, said. “I think it sets a poor example for students, either who are thinking about working at WOUB or even attending the Scripps School of Journalism.”

After everything that’s happened, Gregory said, renaming the newsroom is the right thing to do.

“I think they’ll be very careful when they pick the next name if it’s something other than WOUB Newsroom,” Director Robert Stewart of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism said. “It’s just like the conversation about diversity, that you’re never done with that conversation. It’s not as if we’ve achieved nirvana, that the problems that people face come to an end.”

For associate professor Mary Rogus, it’s a deeply emotional conversation.

“Having that name on that space really brought me back to some of the worst moments in my career in broadcast news,” Rogus said. “I worked for bastards who didn’t think twice about telling me flat out that I would never be a managing editor or a main anchor because they wouldn’t have a woman in that position. And then in the next sentence being told that if you repeat this, you’ll never work in the business again. That’s really hard for a 22-year-old.”

WOUB Editor-in-Chief Allison Hunter is in charge of all television, radio and digital production on the third floor of RTV. She recognizes that her newsroom is in the media for an important reason. But that doesn’t make it fun.

“I’m happy that this distraction is gone,” Hunter said. “It never really affected how we did things; we always said that you have to treat people with respect. You have to be kind to your coworkers. You have to treat them with integrity as you would treat yourself and the audience.”

WOUB News is about working with integrity, Hunter stressed. She wants her staff to believe that.

“Will it change anything that we’re doing? No. It didn’t affect us beforehand,” Hunter said. “But if we hold the students to a standard then the alumni donors should be held to a standard.”

That donorship is significant. Initially, Ailes gave $500,000 to OU in 2007 for a newsroom renovation. Then he gave an additional $175,535, mostly in the form of $5,000 individual scholarships, which McDavis addressed.

“Because the scholarship involves students, we’re trying to find out how to best proceed, but we’re going to work on that this week as well to try to reach a decision point,” he said. “We want to protect our students, whatever we decide on the scholarship.

“I believe this to be the appropriate decision and in alignment with our principal beliefs as a university community,” McDavis said.

In response to his announcement, the faculty burst into applause.

“I just want to say thank you, because I really don’t know how I would have taught another day in that place,” Rogus said, with tears in her eyes. “The name on that wall represents the worst of broadcasting.”

Photo by Nate Doughty
Photo by Nate Doughty

Power to the people, the progress and the press

The Faculty Senate’s agenda for the meeting included a resolution on renaming the room, but this was discarded after McDavis’ statement. Senate Chair Joseph McLaughlin praised the graduate student senate’s early call to rename the newsroom.

“It really feels good, and I think that it shows the strength of shared governance or the strength that shared governance can have, hearing a response from the administration,” Graduate Student Senate President Ian Armstrong said. “Changing the name of the newsroom isn’t going to make any lasting change on campus. I think it’s a good point to jump off of for discussion about the culture problem on our campus and across the country.”

His wasn’t the only student governance body to speak out. Student Senate drafted a petition to pass a resolution to oppose the name, and the OU chapter of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) held a meeting to discuss rape culture on campus in response.

Sasha Gough, a community member involved in ISO, wanted to remove Ailes and replace him with a feminist alternative.

“I think the first woman to have graduated from that major or any major related to journalism would be super cool, or anyone who’s just a well-respected and inclusive and all-around good person would be an awesome person,” Gough said.

ISO, assuming the administration would stay dormant, planned a march and subsequent rally for Thursday afternoon. At the time of publication, the organization has not decided on concrete plans.

Another move that is yet to be resolved is Faculty Senate’s resolution to review the university’s naming practices.

According to McLaughlin, the issue was separated from the Roger Ailes controversy because they did not want to obscure the broader issue of naming practices. The policy has not been reviewed since its approval in 2003, and the matter is largely in the hands of university advancement.

“There may be a process, but I think it’s a fairly haphazard one, and it’s certainly not one that faculty have a strong role in,” McLaughlin said.

One faculty member noted that Ailes was already a controversial figure when the newsroom was named, and questioned whether there was ever a discussion about what he represented and how it would affect the university.

Hunter believes the newsroom and its purpose transcends naming rituals.

“It’s a newsroom, it’s where we do work, it’s the WOUB Newsroom,” Hunter said. “We never called it the Roger Ailes Newsroom. WOUB has a job to do, the students are there, and we’re charged with guiding these students to the next phase of their career. So that’s what we do. So let’s just be the WOUB Newsroom.”

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One Comment

  1. […] rapes, which is exponentially more than in prior years. OU has dealt with the aftermath of removing Roger Ailes’ name from the WOUB newsroom, as well as the many allegations of sexual assault against English Professor […]

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