Three lawsuits. Two years of legal proceedings. One race for transparency.



If you’ve ever run a marathon, you know the hardest part is the first six miles. The Kentucky Kernel is still running in the first six miles of our race, so to speak, as we continue to fight a lawsuit against UK concerning open records and university transparency.

The lawsuit, a little less than two years old, sprung from Kernel staff members requesting documents after two female students reported that former associate professor James Harwood sexually assaulted and harassed them. UK denied the open records request over privacy concerns, with Fayette Circuit Court Judge Thomas Clark ruling in UK’s favor in January 2018. The Kernel filed an appeal, and oral arguments will be heard in the Court of Appeals on Sept. 25.

This case is about more than protecting the Open Records Act, defending a free press and maintaining the press’s watchdog function on the powers that be. The lawsuit, and the events surrounding it, also have real-life applications for every student on campus.

The Kernel reported in June that UK updated its regulations to guide disciplinary actions when dealing with alleged sexual assault cases. A June 18 email from President Eli Capilouto outlined the main changes to the policy, which include a new guideline that allows the accused to have a panel hearing at which time the charges may be dismissed. While it was made in an effort to ensure fairness for the accused, the Louisville Courier Journal reported in July that the new guidelines might be illegal because they give “the accused more rights than the accuser.”

What does this mean? Students, essentially, do not have the same rights afforded alleged aggressors. We have reverted to a practice of basing judgment by contrasting a victim’s word against the word of a person in power. This cannot end well for students, for academic performance, for graduation rates or for UK’s reputation. When students know that their university will not defend them, they will have less incentive to work hard.

That is why our lawsuit is significant. We fight to balance the scales so that all have equal rights and so that our right to receive open records is not compromised.

Those of us on staff now are resolved to keep running, but we likely won’t be here to cross the finish line. That task will fall to the Kernel staff of next year, or the next year, or maybe even the year after that.

Kernel attorney Tom Miller, citing similar cases at Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State, said that “universities cannot be trusted to disseminate the appropriate information to the public so that the students and potential students will know that they can be protected and how to protect themselves.”

His statement alone should inspire all students to get involved. We do not know how long this process will take, so it is vital that not only the next class of journalists, but every student who values democracy and personal safety can and must practice being an active, responsible citizen by investing themselves in this case.

This feels like a marathon, but in truth, it is a relay race. The incoming journalism students and the entire class of 2022 must prepare themselves to take up the baton and fight for personal safety, equality and freedom of the press in the years to come.