Alumnus chides President

Duane Bonifer

Dear Dr. Capilouto,

We have not formally met. I have heard from many people who I respect and who know you that you are a decent, good person, and I write out of goodwill.

I also write as a former ​K​entucky Kernel editor, president of the Kernel Press Inc. and President of the UK School of Journalism and Media Alumni Board to ask that you drop the university’s lawsuit a​gainst the ​Kernel and publicly apologize for​ attacking Kernel staff members for doing their jobs.

I have been associated with t​he ​Kentucky Kernel since August 1986. I have never been more proud of it as I am right now, because of its latest Pacemaker award as well as its effort to force the university to be more open, transparent and honest.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing about my alma mater. The ​Kernel’s fight for open records has made it a shining example of why transparency and openness should be at the cornerstone of a sta​te university. The K​ernel staff members who have led this fight are a credit to not only a great newspaper but also to the work of a great faculty in the School of Journalism and Media.

This First Amendment episode has also brought UK unwanted national and state attention. The more this issue lingers, the worse the publicity is going to become for the university and risk portraying it as a place that is not open with the taxpayers who fund it and the donors who support it.

Sadly, the university has reacted to this dispute in a demeaning, tacky and unprofessional way. The Oct. 27 ​Herald-Leader story (“UK blames newspaper for drop in sex-assault reports. Expert calls that claim ‘shameful.’”) was the latest example of the university taking the low road to justify flouting the state’s open-records law.

What is even more shocking in that story was that the university offered only anecdotal evidenc​e to back up its claim that the K​ernel’s stories and editorials have caused a decline in reports of sexual assaults on campus. Whatever the reasons, if the university had not mishandled such matters in the​ past, there would be no stories for the ​Kernel to write.

When the ​Kernel published its groundbreaking story about now-former professor James Harwood, you then stooped to an incredibly low level by claiming – without speaking to Editor-in-Chief Marjorie Kirk or her staff – that the paper printed “salacious details to attract readers.”

I have known every ​Kernel editor in chief since 1986-87, and Marjorie has made a very strong impression on me and fellow ​Kernel alumni because of her outstanding work and high principles. Rather than ridiculing and condemning her, you should commend her for her outstanding work. (I understand that you like to listen to students. May I suggest you take a short walk over to the ​Kernel offices and have a conversation with Marjorie?)

The Sept. 15 letter to you from the faculty of the School of Journalism and Media rightly upbraided you and your administration for disrespecting Kentucky’s open-records law, ignoring the Kentucky attorney general, and unfairly criticizing a student journalist and her staff. Although it was depressing to read that letter, I was extremely proud of the 15 faculty members who signed it, several of whom have been mentors of mine.

Understand that the people who have taken the time to express their displeasure and disappointment with you over this issue have done so because they passionately believe in Kentucky’s Open Records Act, which is a model law for other states. They also believe that the Kentucky Kernel serves a vital role on campus, both as an outlet that encourages open dialogue about serious issues and as a watchdog of the university administration. And, like me, they are proud to be associated with the University of Kentucky.

You have helped guide the university through a tenuous time, when the state has slashed its support. You have also overseen an impressive expansion of the campus. But as the journalism faculty noted in its letter, you are wasting the treasure you have laid up.

That is why I ho​pe you will take the advice of the faculty and apologize to the Kernel staff, as well as to the faculty, the Kentucky attorney general and Kentucky taxpayers, and also have the university drop its lawsuit against the Kernel.

Let’s move on from this and focus on issues that will help make the Commonwealth of Kentucky a better place for its citizens.


Duane Bonifer Kentucky Kernel staff member, 1986-91