December 18, 2003
WYSO Music Director Vick Mickunas will not be returning to his position, Antioch University said in a press release dated Friday, Dec. 12.
The announcement followed several weeks of controversy surrounding the station, prompted by the university’s decision on Nov. 20 to take Mickunas, the popular host of the “Book Nook,” off the air and place him on administrative leave.
Antioch and Mickunas have offered sharply different versions of the situation that sparked the disciplinary action and also disagree about whether Mickunas was fired or resigned.
“ This is not my choice. I did not resign,” said Mickunas on Monday. “I love WYSO.”
The statement from Antioch said that following a three-day suspension the university “offered Mickunas the opportunity to resume his duties.”
Although the press release did not clearly say so, Antioch included in its offer several conditions that Mickunas had to fulfill, according to Glenn Watts, the Antioch University vice chancellor who oversees WYSO.
According to Mickunas, the conditions “made it impossible for me to function on my job.” Neither Mickunas nor Watts would specify the conditions.
When Mickunas contacted the university and said he would not agree to those conditions, Suzanne Castonguay, the Antioch University human resources director, issued the Dec. 12 press release saying that Mickunas did not accept Antioch’s offer to return to the station.
In the press release, which was titled “Mickunas Leaves WYSO, Refuses University Offer to Return to the Air,” Castonguay said that “Antioch University has high standards of conduct for its employees and will continue to do what is necessary to maintain a level of excellence.”
According to a separate press release issued by Castonguay shortly after Mickunas was placed on leave, the disciplinary action reflected problems between Mickunas and the university and had nothing to do with Steve Spencer, the general manager at WYSO. Watts also said that Spencer was not linked to the action.
However, Mickunas said that assessment was not accurate, and that the disciplinary action followed an incident between himself and Spencer.
“ People need to know what’s really going on at WYSO with Steve Spencer and Antioch University,” Mickunas said. “This is totally about Steve Spencer’s total inability to manage people.”
Spencer left for a monthlong vacation last Friday and was unavailable for comment.
Three other former WYSO employees, who have left the station in recent years, said in interviews or written statements that difficulties with Spencer’s management style played a role in their decisions to leave the station.
“ I think what should be illustrated is that there has been a series of people leaving the station to the point where Steve is surrounded only by the people he hired,” said Melody Bennett, a former WYSO development director who left the station in 2000, after working there for three years. “That indicates someone who’s difficult to work with.”
The specific incident involving Mickunas and Spencer took place during a meeting on Nov. 19, according to Mickunas. During the meeting, Mickunas said that he felt he was being “verbally abused” by Spencer, and told the station manager that he would not stand for it any more. Mickunas said that when he felt verbally harassed once again he walked out of the meeting.
The next day he was notified by Castonguay that he had been placed on administrative leave until an investigation could take place.
Asked about the incident, Watts, who was out of the country when Mickunas was placed on leave, said that he “was not aware” that such an incident took place. “It was not a conflict situation,” he said.
However, such an incident would not be unusual, according to a written statement by Aileen LeBlanc, the former WYSO news director who resigned from the station a year ago, citing difficulties with station management.
“ There has been a pretty much uninterrupted period of harassment of Vick Mickunas,” LeBlanc wrote. “Station management has been abusive and unfair. And the university has sanctioned the behavior. Frankly, I’m surprised Vick has put up with it for this length of time. I couldn’t and I didn’t.”
LeBlanc said that in her 22 years of broadcasting, “I can name no one as talented as Vick Mickunas.”
Stephen Lucht, a former WYSO operations director, said that difficulty with station management also contributed to his leaving the station last spring after more than six years at WYSO. Lucht said that he was unhappy with how Spencer and Program Director Tim Tattan “managed resources and how they managed people.”
Lucht described Mickunas as “very good at what he does” and “very much a team player.”
Asked to respond to the comments made by the former WYSO employees, Watts said that “each of these is a personnel matter. Steve Spencer is not the subject of this discussion.”
In an e-mail to station employees and volunteers, Watts said that regarding the reasons for Mickunas’s administrative leave, “most of the speculation has focused on a conflict between Vick and Steve, but the speculation has not been correct.” Rather, Watts said, the issue was a “personnel matter that cannot be discussed publicly.”
Following Castonguay’s investigation into the matter, Watts wrote, “Vick was given the opportunity to return to work provided that he agree to some conditions established to insure that the problems with external organizations would not recur and to improve his relationship with his colleagues and volunteers .... Unfortunately, Vick has concluded that he cannot accept the University’s conditions. Therefore, he has decided not to return to his position.”
When told Monday of the Dec. 12 press release, Mickunas expressed surprise and said that Antioch University had not contacted him to tell him that he was no longer working at WYSO.
— Diane Chiddister