Sunday, July 04, 2010

Berry: Might not have given papers to university anyway, depending on its support of small farmers

Author Wendell Berry, who decided not to donate his personal papers to the University of Kentucky after the school named its basketball dormitory Wildcat Coal Lodge in return for $7 million from Alliance Coal CEO Joe Craft, said in an interview published today that he might not have given the papers to the university anyway, because his initial condition was that it serve the interests of small farmers.

Berry told Charlie Pearl of The State Journal in Frankfort that when the school asked him to donate his papers that it had on loan, "I said I have two children farming and these papers have a value, and if I come to feel that the university is really serving the interest of people like my children who hope to prosper on small farms, then I may consider donating them. But until they’re secure and I’m assured of the university’s interest in people like them, I’m not going to do it. And I’m not naïve. I was not at all inclined to make an issue of the university’s manifest lack of concern about surface mining in Eastern Kentucky and its ecological implications, its implications for the forests, for the survival of the wild creatures and maybe preeminently for the rural people there that a land-grant university is mandated to look after and help. . . . I understood that it was probably too much to expect, even a land-grant university, to take an interest in those things.

"But when the university accepted that gift ... that meant they had passed over from indifference to a manifest alliance with the coal industry. I don’t think a university ought to make an alliance with any industry. I know that’s going on at other universities, and I think it’s always a breach of intellectual integrity and reputability and a breach of public obligation. That is a public university. It ought not to be allying itself with a private interest of any kind. When that happened, that made it impossible for me to tacitly accept that in terms of my own relationship with the university. So the question I had to answer was whether I wanted to be associated with the university on its terms, and the answer I had to give is that I don’t." (Pearl photo)

Berry, who will be 76 next month, also talked with Pearl about how he writes (without electricity), farms (with horses) and lives (without television or a computer). "I use a spiral notebook, and I write on the right-hand page," he said. "Anything I want to add I put on the left-hand page. If I don’t like what I’ve done, I rip pages out and start all over again. It’s pretty good technology. I have a pencil and eraser. It’s wonderful new technology, that eraser is." (Read more)

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