Wendell Berry Pulls Papers from University of Kentucky
Wendell Berry—author, farmer, poet, academic, community activist, cultural and economic critic, and Sierra Club member since LBJ occupied the White House—announced on June 23 that he was pulling his papers from the University of Kentucky's archives to protest the naming of a new dormitory for the school's powerhouse basketball team as the Wildcat Coal Lodge.
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, "Berry excoriated his alma mater, saying the decision to name a new dorm for UK basketball players the Wildcat Coal Lodge 'puts an end' to his association with the university."
The new $7 million dormitory was approved last fall by the university's trustees in a 16-3 vote. The proposal for the Wildcat Coal Lodge came from Joe Craft, President and CEO of Oklahoma-based Alliance Coal, who pulled together the necessary funds. An Alliance subsidiary was cited three times this spring for violating conditions of a controversial mining permit in Kentucky.
The new dorm will replace the Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge, named for the Kentucky native and former head coach who led the University of Kentucky basketball team to the NCAA title in 1978. In an exquisitely ironic twist, university guidelines stipulate that the new Wildcat Coal Lodge will run on green energy.
"The university's president and board have solemnized an alliance with the coal industry in return for a large monetary 'gift,' granting the benefactors, in effect, co-sponsorship of the University's basketball team," Berry wrote in a typewritten letter severing his ties with the university.
An outspoken critic of the coal industry's despoiling of Kentucky's air, water, landscapes, rural economies, and human communities, Berry, 75, said the University's push to become a "Top 20" research university had caused it to stray from its land-grant university obligation to address Kentucky's problems.
"The coal business came up, and that for me was just the last straw," he told the Herald-Leader. "I don't think the University of Kentucky can be so ostentatiously friendly to the coal industry … and still be a friend to me and the interests for which I have stood for the last 45 years. …If they love the coal industry that much, I have to cancel my friendship."
Berry, perhaps Kentucky's best-known writer and cultural icon, said that breaking with his alma mater saddens him. "I have an enormous obligation to that university. I was a student there, a teacher there, they've honored me … but it seems to me it's going in a direction I don't agree with."