Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wendell Berry yanks papers from U.Ky. after coal donation puts mineral into basketball dorm name

In October we reported the University of Kentucky had accepted a donation from a group led by Alliance Coal CEO Joe Craft to fund a new dormitory for the men's basketball team and add "Coal" as a middle name to the current one, Wildcat Lodge. In response to that decision and other university policies, Wendell Berry, left, one of the state's most famous authors, is removing his personal papers from the university's archives. "Berry excoriated his alma matter in a Dec. 20, 2009, letter, saying the decision . . . 'puts an end' to his association with the university," Cheryl Truman of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. The paper obtained the letter through an open records request.

"The university's president and board have solemnized an alliance with the coal industry, in return for a large monetary 'gift,' granting to the benefactors, in effect, a co-sponsorship of the university's basketball team," Berry wrote in the typewritten letter. He also faulted the school's emphasis on becoming a "Top 20" research university and President Lee Todd's "exclusive 'focus' on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics." Berry concluded, "It is now obviously wrong, unjust and unfair, for your space and work to be encumbered by a collection of papers that I no longer can consider donating to the university." They will go to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort.

Berry, a UK alumnus and former professor there, told the Herald-Leader that the UK trustees' decision to accept the Coal Lodge donation was the "final straw" and said "If they love the coal industry that much, I have to cancel my friendship." UK spokesman Jimmy Stanton said in a statement, "We do regret that our students and researchers who wish to study his life and works will now be unable to access all of his previously donated works in one archive that contains the papers of many of Kentucky's greatest writers." The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is based in the UK School of Journalism and Telecommunications. (Read more)

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