In a throwback to 19th century backroom deal making, University of Kentucky President Lee T. Todd Jr. and several members of the UKY Board of Trustees refused to consider any formal student statements this week during their meeting to barter away the name of a Wildcat basketball dorm for Big Coal donations, and then fled to a back room as students made their testimonies.
But the game ain’t over yet.
The scandalous Trustees may have voted 16-3 to approve rebuilding and renaming the beloved Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge as the Wildcat Coal Lodge, but the public relations nightmare has just begun.
Rachel Maddow pilloried the scam on her program this week, with a knock-out interview with the brilliant Nation sports reporter Dave Zirin:
According to university reports, the nebulous Wildcat Coal Lodge still has to pass through the Council on Postsecondary Education and the legislature’s Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee.
In truth, the $7 million of dirty coal money promised for the Wildcat coffers is a pittance compared to the coal industry welfare subsidies that the state of Kentucky hands out every year. According to a recent MACED report, Kentucky taxpayers annually donate $115 million to the coal industry in infrastructure and research costs — this doesn’t even include the billions of dollars in massive external costs to the health care industry and the environment.
In the meantime, student, faculty and alumni outrage at the administrative bungling of this growing scandal continues, while the potential university violations, and the egregious backgrounds of the Big Coal pushers continue to pile up.
Rallied by Alliance Coal baron Joe Craft, the so-called “Difference Makers” behind this bizarre push to drag the legendary Wildcat basketball team into the muck as a mascot of Big Coal include some of the most outspoken supporters of the controversial process that has devastated the economies and well-being of historic eastern Kentucky communities and wiped out hundreds of miles of streams and hundreds of lush mountains in the state.
Difference Makers include Charles Baird, Chairman of Coal Operators and Associates, an outfit that has repeatedly supported mountaintop removal, and erroneously claimed in a memo to the EPA [PDF] that mountaintop removal provided “immeasurable economic and social benefits to one of the poorest regions of the United States” and resulted in no significant water pollution.
In truth, eastern Kentucky’s coal counties have lost over 60 percent of their coal mining jobs in the last generation due to mountaintop removal operations and mechanization, while poverty and unemployment have soared.
Hundreds of miles of streams have been jammed with mining waste; in 2000, over 300 million gallons of toxic coal sludge leaked into Martin County [PDF], an accident 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez disaster, devastating aquatic life and watersheds for miles.
Another Difference Maker is Joy Mining, whose sister company, P&H Mining Equipment, makes the massive draglines used in strip mining and mountaintop removal operations.
According to some observers, the trustees dirty coal scheme of creating a Wildcat Coal Lodge, in a designated LEED-certified building, is also in clear violation of the UKY policy on naming university property:
Naming new University structures, properties, or portions thereof, e.g., playing fields, rooms, and plazas, (hereafter “property”) and changing the names of existing property, whether on the main campus or elsewhere, is of interest to the entire University community. An appropriate name accounts for present and possible future uses of the property, and reflects functions performed and interests served by the property.
When some other name seems more appropriate than a functionally descriptive one, the nominations should demonstrate that the remarkable associations of that name, either with the history of the University or the nation or with the advancement of knowledge and learning, and guarantee that it will remain memorable long beyond the lifetime of those who propose the name. Nominations whose claims are parochial, of recent date and untested by the passage of time, or based on personal enthusiasm should be avoided.
It is appropriate to express the esteem and appreciation the University holds for one who has brought honor to the institution by personal accomplishments, or who has given significantly of personal time and money, by giving the person’s name to a University property. Wherever possible, however, the person’s name should be given to a property related to some activity appropriate to that person’s field of interest or endeavor.
As outraged students, faculty and alumni shift to a full court press against the administration’s misguided pander to dirty coal, here are some statements from university advocates ignored by the trustees:
Hopefully, by the end of this academic year I’ll have three degrees from the University of Kentucky, including the highest in my field. My whole family’s from Eastern Kentucky and they’ve always been proud that I’m part of the UK tradition. It’s disappointing to see that tradition sold off like this to the most insidious polluters and wreckers of community in our state. I lived for several years in Cynthiana, Ky., and saw Joe B. Hall at gas stations and community events. It was good to know that local people could do something great — something heroic. That’s why his name was honored. Coal is choking our state to death and, rather than listen to the student body, the staff, and the faculty, the Board of Trustees has chosen to degrade a wonderful tradition and to trammel the dreams of Kentuckians.
-Brandon Absher, current UK student and Kentucky Mountain Justice organizer
Eastern Kentucky youth have to work extremely hard to get themselves out of the coal fields and make opportunities for themselves, often ending up at state universities like EKU, as I did, and UK. It is demoralizing for these youth to watch coal that has impoverished and sickened their families for generations be burned on their campus and touted on “academic” structures.
- Tanya Turner of Pineville, Ky., Eastern Kentucky University alum, Kentucky Mountain Justice organizer, and descendant of Kentucky coal miners.
President Lee Todd has given some hope in the last few years by creating the President’s Sustainability Advisory Committee and Student Sustainability Council in order to transition UK to a more sustainable future, but with every decision he makes like this one, it becomes all the more evident that he has no regard for this campus initiative. How are our professor’s suppose to present information in an unbiased way, when UK has made its position clear.
-Julia Lou Lepping, Native Kentuckian, UK Alum and active organizer with Kentucky Mountain Justice.
Naming a new LEED-certified campus building the “Wildcat Coal Lounge” is a bad move for this university. It is an egregious case of industrial product placement in a public institution. It is an insult to Kentucky basketball fans who remember Joe B. Hall as a great coach worthy of remembering. It is a step backward for a University whose goal is to move forward to Top 20 status. Finally this decision ignores the industry’s history of exploitation that has enriched coal corporations and corrupt politicians and impoverished Appalachia’s communities and devastated its ecosystems. This decision is unacceptable, but sadly it is just business as usual in Kentucky. We must raise our voices in opposition.
-Martin Mudd, UK physics graduate student and Kentucky Mountain Justice organizer