UK seeks to fire tenured journalism professor over sales of his own textbook


UK Professor Buck Ryan

Kernel News Staff

UK is looking to terminate tenured journalism professor, Buck Ryan, after an internal audit said that he profited from sales of his self-authored textbook that was required for some of his classes.  

In a statement to the Herald-Leader, Provost David Blackwell said that Ryan “stole from students. And he used university resources to do it.” Ryan told the paper that he intends to fight the allegations. 

Ryan’s textbook, “Writing Baby, Editing Dog & You: A Friendly Place to Begin Your Writing,” has been required reading for students taking Ryan’s JOU 101 since at least 2009. The book has also been required for other journalism classes in the past. 

According to an internal audit which was first reported by the Herald-Leader, Ryan has allegedly made about $6,000 in royalties since he began using the book. UK policy states that professors must have an approved petition from a “chair, director or dean” to use self-authored textbooks and all royalties from the book should be given to the school or a charity.

The audit states that Ryan never petitioned the department; Ryan disagreed. 

Ryan gave the Kernel a letter he wrote to Dan O’Hair, dean of the College of Communications and Mike Farrell, interim director of the journalism school.

In the letter, Ryan states that he first received approval to use the textbook in a 2008 merit review, “which was conducted by both the journalism Director and the former Dean.” 

“At that time I submitted a complete copy of Writing Baby in my portfolio for review,” Ryan continued in the letter. “I not only explained the purpose of the book but also opened the discussion on use of a self-published book.”

Ryan said between 2008 and the 2016-17 school year he was never told that “Writing Baby was not suitable for my classes or that my approach of allocating profits was inappropriate.”

According to the audit, between 2009 and 2017, Ryan gave none of the $6,060 in royalties to UK. Ryan’s syllabus said that book profits would go to pay off a donation to a journalism scholarship fund, which the audit said he did pay off prior to the book becoming required reading.

In a statement provided to the Herald-Leader, Blackwell said that Ryan’s actions have “violated” the trust of students.

“That violation of trust is why we’ve had to take this step to seek the termination of a faculty member, a move we don’t make lightly but one that we must regrettably take,” Blackwell said.

In his letter, Ryan contends that the audit does not include donations he made to UK and other charitable organizations and has documents to prove it, including a thank you note from O’Hair for a contribution that Ryan said that he made in 2015.  

“I have donated royalties to the university on two occasions not mentioned in the report, to charitable organizations, including my church and the Governor’s School for the Arts, and other educational institutions, including my children’s schools, such as Christ the King School, Lexington Catholic High School and Centre College,” he wrote. “Profits from the sale of Writing Baby have gone to good causes, and I have not exploited the platform of my professorship; I have been teaching students to improve their writing.”

The audit recommends that Ryan repay the $6,060 in bookstore payments to UK or to a charitable organization.

According to UK spokesman Jay Blanton, Ryan was given an offer to resign by O’Hair last week, but Ryan refused. Blackwell’s termination recommendation has been forwarded to faculty committee and administrative officials, including President Eli Capilouto.

For now, Ryan will stay on faculty and is expected to teach in the fall.

Ryan has been a member of the journalism school since 1994, when he served as director of the school until 2002. In the past, he also has been an interim adviser for the Kernel. He first published his textbook in 2008.

Further reading about Professor Buck Ryan:

Eight faculty investigated for sexual misconduct

Singing Beach Boys not ‘sexual harassment’ 

Professor’s side of story distorts facts of case

Making his maestro

Professors give back to university: Proceeds from books donated to UK, charities