The New(est) Dispensation of Kentucky’s Domain of Greed, Power, and Corruption
My institution, The University of Kentucky, continues to receive national media coverage for the embarrassments that take place on campus and in its administrative meetings. Our latest shameful news is that the University Board of Trustees met today to discuss whether or not they would accept Joe Craft’s proposed gift of $7 million and the handcuffed obligation to spend it on a new dorm for its college basketball players. The new dorm, if built, would be required to have the name “coal” in it, mostly because Craft is the CEO of Alliance Coal, LLC.
As expected, the Board of Trustees didn’t spend much time worrying about the ramifications of their decision and quickly voted to accept the gift and move forward with plans to build the new “Wildcat Coal Lodge.” There has been a great deal of buzz on campus the past few days, and now national media outlets are turning to cover the incident, and not without an attitude of condescension and pity either.
Check out what Dave Zirin, a sports editor at The Nation and the host of Edge of Sports Radio, has to say on the Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC). The clip is interesting, even if misguided in its guffawing focus on the idiocy of naming buildings after coal, but Maddow does ask a good question about the role that private industry now holds in college athletics. This five-minute interview is yet one more sign that we need to supplement our news diet with more sources and more information than what appears on television.
Joe Craft has already donated millions of dollars to the University of Kentucky Athletics Association so it could build a new practice facility for the men’s basketball team. This project, while largely funded by Craft’s own pocketbook, did force the university to dip into its coffers (which, by the way, come from state tax payers), even though university administrators protested and said that UK is suffering from a “crisis in undergraduate education.”
Now, Craft has organized a group of influential coal barons, bankers, and other Lexington figures to form a group called “The Difference Makers.” The Kentucky Kernel features a story with a list of these people. These are precisely the people who exploit Kentucky’s land, people, and economies. They have access to the highest percentages of concentrated wealth in the state, and they could use their financial clout and resourcefulness to raise money for the university’s general education fund instead of its already bloated athletics department.
Craft’s group had the audacity to announce their plans during an on-campus forum on coal and the university last week. Almost all of the university’s electricity comes by way of Kentucky coal, and various university leaders met to discuss the future of this energy resource and our responsibility as an institution to seek alternatives. Instead, it became another forum for Kentucky’s coal industry to advance its agenda vis-a-vis UK programming.
Back to Maddow’s point. Doesn’t this decision by the Board of Trustees constitute some sort of egregious violation of the line between corporate advertising and educational endeavor? It does, but she should have focused on the fact that such uneasy collaboration has been going on for a long time, mainly out of sad necessity. I’m currently sitting in the William T. Young library, writing in the Toyota Reading Room, a space that’s been subsidized by a predatory multi-national automotive company that’s done more to dismantle union labor in Kentucky than any industry except coal mining.
Universities like UK willingly turn to corporate deals and agreements because they feel as if they need the money. They are underfunded by state legislatures to be sure, but more often than not, universities simply allow billion dollar companies to profit off of their clientele. They get little in return. A good recent example is UK’s decision to allow Apple Computers to build a store in its Student Center.
What Maddow and Zirin also neglected to mention is that the Board of Trustees’ vote today is just one example of a longstanding partnership between the interests of big coal in Kentucky and University of Kentucky athletics. Last week, Friends of Coal sponsored a men’s basketball practice, which UK students could attend if they subjected themselves to watching women’s volleyball and men’s soccer games. Friends of Coal also sponsors replays at home football and basketball games. The formula for the coal industry, and a lot of other industries in Kentucky for that matter, is simple: find the product people in the state care about more passionately than anything (Kentucky basketball) and find ways for them to associate their positive passion toward it with their own product (in this case, coal.)
Zirin hits the nail on the head again. Lee Todd won’t do anything to stop this because he see all things university related as a business transaction. He hasn’t actually taught in a university since the early 1980s, he’s a former board member of IBM, and he’s hopelessly skewed by the values of the marketplace. The sun is not shining bright on my old Kentucky home today.