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After Ashbrook Dismissal, WBUR And BU Promise To Scrutinize WBUR's Workplace Culture

WBUR and its owner, Boston University, are promising to scrutinize the workplace culture at the station after the dismissal of popular On Point talk show host Tom Ashbrook earlier this month.

They made that promise during Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting of the WBUR Executive Advisory Council.

"We don't ever want this to happen again," said Peter Fiedler, BU's vice president of administrative services. "We're here to listen," Fiedler said of Tuesday's meeting. "But it's not going to change what we believe was the right move [to dismiss Ashbrook]."

This was the first time the 17-member Executive Advisory Council has met since BU announced that it would fire Ashbrook for creating what independent investigators called “an abusive work environment” during his 16 years at WBUR. That inquiry, along with another independent investigation, followed allegations from current and former On Point staffers. The other investigation found that Ashbrook's behavior did not constitute sexual harassment under the school’s Title IX policy.

Ashbrook, who has apologized to those who “found the show’s pace and [him] just too much,” has said he believes his dismissal was “profoundly unfair.”

Advisory Council member Tiziana Dearing said she has "full confidence that the university and the radio station made the correct, difficult decision."

Both Fiedler and WBUR General Manager Charlie Kravetz said that most of the details about Ashbrook's dismissal involve confidential personnel information that legally cannot be disclosed, but they said they wanted to address the controversial issue, which has led to calls for someone in WBUR or BU management to step down.

WBUR issued an on-air notice of the meeting and about 10 people -- not affiliated with the station -- attended to ask questions about Ashbrook's firing and the future of the show.

Perhaps the most heated exchange during Tuesday’s meeting came when Colin Leitch, co-pastor of Church On The Hill in Boston, asked why station management couldn't have worked with Ashbrook to improve his behavior and if Ashbrook's dismissal wasn't just as much a management failure on the part of WBUR and BU.

"Why weren't other people relieved of their duties? Where was the supervision?” Leitch asked. “This has the appearance of a topical ambush. There are serious questions about how this was handled and why others were not also relieved of their responsibilities."

Kravetz said Tuesday he takes full responsibility for the problems on On Point and said he hopes to find a new host so the program can be done with an "empathetic, empowered workforce."

"I've said before that I was aware of what was going on at On Point and I repeatedly engaged Tom and I regret that I was not able to effectively address Tom's behavior," Kravetz said.

One of the same consulting firms that investigated Ashbrook also will review management and workplace culture at WBUR. Longpoint Consulting will be at the radio station starting next week and will set up an office at WBUR to talk with staffers and attend department meetings.

"This isn't over," Advisory Council member Dearing said. "I feel a real responsibilty to be really aware of this next phase of human resources engagement."

Fiedler said Longpoint will also develop a survey to distribute to all WBUR employees and will then collect all the information it gathers in a report that will recommend workplace improvements. He expects that report will be done by June. Fiedler says the full report will not be made public, but the findings and recommendations from Longpoint will be.

This article was originally published on February 27, 2018.

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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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