I like to think of myself as an inherently optimistic person. This has been tested of late (I will neither confirm nor deny that I spent the entirety of Monday’s presidential debate tucked in the fetal position, rocking back and forth muttering “there’s no place like home” ad nauseum).
However, one thing has served to replenish my positivity – the daily delivery of Google news alerts loaded with editorials written in support of the Kentucky Kernel.
The Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s independent student newspaper, is currently locked in a legal battle for open records against their school, and as terrible as that is, it has elicited strong responses from scholastic and professional newsrooms in Kentucky and across the nation.
It’s noteworthy in itself that national outlets such as the Washington Post and USA Today have covered the story, but you’d be remiss in not reading the Kernel’s own coverage of the sexual harassment investigation, subsequent records battle, and the recent push by the university president, Eli Capilouto, to address the university’s problematic response to sexual harassment cases.
Not to play on the whole Kentucky = horses thing, but this one’s WAY out of the barn.
The breadth and depth of the Kernel’s coverage of the matter could easily serve as an instructional how-to in journalistic rigor and transparency:
- Continued pay, benefits for UK professor who resigns amid allegations of sexual harassment 4/6
- Kentucky Kernel appeals UK’s decision to deny open records request 4/21
- UK violated open records law by keeping documents from Kernel, Attorney General rules 8/8
- University to sue Kentucky Kernel in effort to appeal Attorney General’s decision 8/8
- Kernel obtains withheld records; victims say UK trying to protect professor in sexual assault case 8/13
- UK will continue with appeal despite victims’ wishes 8/13
- Resigned professor accused of research misconduct 8/22
- UK follows through on promise of suit against Kernel 9/1
- UK shows contempt, disrespect for attorney general, retired official says 9/2
- Board of Trustees takes no action on Kernel lawsuit in morning meeting 9/9
- Faculty chides Capilouto for impugning remarks about student journalist, Kernel 9/15
- UK adds requirement to hiring process to avoid sexual misconduct 9/21
We could make a j-school course syllabus out of this collection of articles alone. You’d be equally remiss in skipping the editorials published by the staff:
- UK’s suit for secrecy betrays public interest
- UK’s fight for secrecy leaves truth behind
- Balancing journalistic ethics: seeking truth, minimizing harm
- UK turns back on students, transparency
- Safety unfair casualty of upholding UK’s image
- Campus safety concerns need reforms with teeth
The Kernel also published a blog post by a Board of Trustees staff member defending UK’s actions. Which could be considered rather generous given that we couldn’t otherwise find a single editorial supporting UK and President Capilouto.
What’s been most heartening is the staunch support shown by UK’s journalism faculty and the Bluegrass chapter of the SPJ. But it doesn’t end there. Editorial boards at some of Kentucky’s major newspapers have taken a stand for the Kernel.
The Lexington Herald-Leader responded to Capilouto’s letter with some initial confusion:
“Like a clumsy essay that keeps a teacher up late, Capilouto’s explanation for why UK is going to court to fight ‘a series of legal actions regarding open records and meetings,’ ignores fact and defies logic.”
Before ripping apart UK’s arguments line-by-line:
“Then, Capilouto declares UK ‘will never disclose the name of a victim of violence.’
Stirring but irrelevant. As the AG notes, names and other identifiers of both victims and witnesses are to be withheld from any release. And, both the Kentucky Kernel and this newspaper have policies against identifying victims of sexual offenses.”
In a second editorial, the Herald-Leader applaud the Kernel for its tenacity:
“There’s plenty there to make university administrators nervous, uncomfortable, eager to pay a few months’ extra salary to make the problem professor go away. They have skin in the status-quo game.
The Kernel doesn’t. It’s independent. For that we should all give thanks.”
The Louisville Courier-Journal, meanwhile, questioned UK’s stubbornness in pursuing the lawsuit in light of Kentucky’s strong public records laws and court history of favoring transparency:
“Kentucky has some of the country’s better laws on open records and meetings, yet some institutions still insist on fighting every step of the way to protect their reputations and operations from public scrutiny. This lesson about institutional intransigence is one these UK student journalists will have for a long time.”
KyForward, an online-only news outlet based in Edgewood, ran an editorial by a former Kernel alum which questions whether criminal charges can or should be sought against the accused professor and applauds the work of the Kernel in bringing the accusations against him to light:
“It involves the University of Kentucky and its independent student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, and the ongoing narrative conclusively establishes that young men and women often display more wisdom and fortitude than their elders.”
The Bowling Green Daily News stated unequivocally that they stand with the Kernel:
“We respect Capilouto’s desire to protect the identities of victims, but we believe that information about the behavior of a professor and the university’s response to allegations against him should be made available to the state’s taxpayers. The refusal to do so simply gives the impression that UK has something to hide.”
In an editorial titled “Hats off to the Kernel for taking a stand,” the News-Graphic out of Georgetown, Kentucky, expressed serious doubts about who, exactly, the university is seeking to protect:
“UK’s student population, parents, alumni and the community at large have a vested interest in knowing how allegations of sexual misconduct are handled on campus. We suspect the UK community would like to know that such situations are handled appropriately and in the students’ best interests, rather than hidden to avoid public embarrassment.
Congratulations to The Kentucky Kernel for the courage to stand up to its own administration.”
The Times-Tribune based in Corbin, Kentucky called on the Board of Trustees to put an end to the shenanigans ahead of the Sept. 9 board meeting (which the board declined to do):
“If Capilouto won’t obey the law, UK’s trustees should. It is within their power to demand that he honor the mission of this institution and the principle of open government. The university should heed the attorney general’s order and tell its attorneys to stand down.”
Harlan, Kentucky’s newspaper, the Harlan Daily Enterprise, acknowledged both sides of the argument and their valid interests, but ultimately concluded:
“Fear of exposure can intimidate victims into silence. But transparency and sensitivity to victims can co-exist when institutions are truly committed to both. Hiding the internal handling of such cases from scrutiny only invites more and worse abuse.”
Some of the most widespread support has come from fellow student media.
Western Kentucky University’s student paper, the College Heights Herald, showed their support for the Kernel, and the Kernel’s campaign to raise money for their legal defense, citing Editor-in-Chief Will Wright’s statement that “university administrators must not be allowed to hide public records simply because they have the most money in the game.”
“I wholeheartedly agree. Student journalists across the country work tirelessly to hold accountable the very same institutions from which we seek our degrees. It can be a tough load to carry, especially when that very institution decides to sic its top-notch legal team on you and your colleagues.”
The staff at Northern Kentucky University’s The Northerner kicked off their own editorial by encouraging readers to follow the Kernel’s reporting and pointed to the larger implications for student journalists in Kentucky:
“These stories are alarming to all of us in the newsroom, and they should be alarming to the students who attend this university.
Our job is to both hold people accountable for their actions, and to give a voice to the voiceless on campus. We are your watchdog.
Yet there are those who would try to silence student journalists, both here and in Lexington. It’s not just our voice they’re trying to silence, it’s yours.”
The Louisville Cardinal newsroom at the University of Louisville (where the fundraising foundation is engaged in its own open records lawsuit), added its voice to the conversation, emphasizing the crucial part student publications play in informing the community:
“Often [student journalists] report on topics and stories within a university community that go uncovered by larger publications – a vital role that often goes unnoticed.”
Out on the East Coast, the students at The Flat Hat (arguably the best newspaper name in scholastic journalism) who cover the College of William and Mary in Virginia, sent their best wishes to the Kernel and hammered home the necessity of open records laws:
“Time and again, The Flat Hat has relied on open records laws to do its job (sometimes meeting resistance). In a system that benefits campus authorities at every step, these laws — and their faithful application — are one of the only tools the student body has to protect its own interests.”
At Rutgers University in New Jersey, the Daily Targum penned a nuanced examination of the competing interests in this case, ultimately coming to a critical conclusion:
“…the main takeaway of the issue is the underlying responsibility of the media to be ethical and sensitive when handling similar cases. Sexual assault stories are unfortunately prevalent, so college newspaper reports on the problem are likely to happen again.”
Vassar’s Miscellany News explored the rights of the victims (whose representative has been working with the Kernel) to come forward in whatever degree they see fit:
“Capilouto and the University of Kentucky’s actions strip the sexual assault victims and the Kernel staff of their right to free speech. A student-run newspaper, like the Kernel, should operate free of University control; Students have every right to report the news, even if it sheds a negative light on the school.”
The University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily addressed the stark, David-versus-Mechagodzilla financial implications of the suit, for the Kernel and for all financially struggling student publications:
“The rise of the Internet has led to a considerable decrease in profits for print newspapers all around the world, and student newspapers often barely break even. The University of Kentucky, on the other hand, has a $1.143 billion endowment.”
Penn State’s newspaper has already made waves this school year for an unflinching editorial criticizing their school’s decision to honor former head coach Joe Patterno, and the Daily Collegian didn’t shrink from the opportunity to speak up for the Kernel, framing the debacle within the wider national concerns over universities concealing sexual assault:
“Time and time again there is a nationwide push for greater awareness of sexual misconduct and abuse, and there is a drive for more people to come forward, report his or her case, share their story. There is a growing voice, pleading for an end to fear of coming forward and praising the advances being made.
How can universities still be this tone deaf? Why are these cover-up stories that are broken by student papers still happening?”
The Daily Trojan out of the University of Southern California voiced support for the Kernel while observing that the newspaper’s fighting spirit evidences that college journalism is alive and well:
“Denying access to these documents only exacerbated the consequences for the university, and as long as campus newspapers exist and operate ethically, the search for truth and justice will never be over.”
Finally, the on-again, off-again satirical newspaper for the University of Kentucky, The UK Colonel, addressed Capilouto’s statement defending the lawsuit. After all, the Colonel points out, “As Capilouto is an intelligent man, we’ve deduced that these portions of his statement must be typographical errors.” They go on to produce a tongue-in-cheek, almost line-by-line “correction” of the president’s statement.
“In this first paragraph, Capilouto displays a classic typo — one that has plagued us all at one time or another — the accidental omission of a word. In this case, it was the word ‘not.’ The statement should read, ‘…the responsibility to share information is not at odds with another sacred responsibility.’”
We are hereby initiating the slow clap.