Listen to student voices when making campus policy

Column by UK Greenthumb

Several months ago, President Lee Todd and the University of Kentucky administration made several statements regarding their viewpoint on campus sustainability. That is, they made concessions to students after their blatant refusal to allow students to make decisions for themselves.

In April 2006, UK students voted in an overwhelming majority to increase student fees by a minimal sum to fund research and development of renewable energy sources on campus, which would be overseen by a campus sustainability coordinator.

This past January, however, the Board of Trustees, stacked with Governor Ernie Fletcher’s conservative allies and proponents of the state’s environmentally detrimental coal industry, voted to cut the student fee for renewable energy.  This action defies not only the public voices of a majority of UK students, but common sense as well.

After an intense, student-organized campaign to pressure the university into working for sustainability, the administration made some promises.

Among these were hiring a sustainability coordinator and creating a permanent presidential committee on sustainability (both of which were to be completed by August 2007). The administration also planned an increase in student events geared toward promoting environmental issues, energy audits of campus buildings, sustainable internship opportunities and the purchase of locally and sustainably grown food according to the April 26 edition of the Kernel. It has yet to be seen, however, if any of the administration’s promises will be fulfilled.

And while the university has failed to take the initiative on making the campus more sustainable, the federal government has been finding ways to legitimize the process of mountaintop removal. Thus, it is most likely that unless action is taken sooner rather than later, UK’s habit of burning tons and tons of coal each day will not be stopped.

All of that being said, a new crisis has arisen in the fight for campus sustainability. It is likely, however, that you haven’t heard about it.

It is nothing less than a travesty that the University of Kentucky has been planning for months on end to clear cut 800 acres of its own Robinson Forest, meaning the rapid and complete, and likely permanent, destruction of all vegetation in the specified area.. To illustrate more clearly, imagine the lush Robinson Forest that many have come to know, and picture it looking precisely like the surrounding mountaintop removal sites.

What is even more troubling is that the plans for this project had largely been kept a secret from the public until very recently. Robinson Forest spans nearly 15,000 acres in southeastern Kentucky, and is home to many university educational programs, including the Summer Environmental Writing Program, co-directed by UK lecturer and author Erik Reece, and countless summer programs through the College of Agriculture. This space has long served its intended purpose of providing educational opportunities for university students.

However, the process of clear cutting such a vast amount of one of the nation’s most valuable old growth forests to test the best management practices is hardly such an exercise. There has long been pressure for Robinson Forest to be mined for coal, as the outlying areas of the forest have already been devastated by strip mining. We, as a group of concerned students, have believed that our university would never take such drastic and misinformed measures for the sake of monetary gain.

Largely, the administration of this university has let its students down. Please, support Greenthumb and the various other community organizations, such as Kentucky Heartwood and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth in fighting to preserve not only the wonderful natural environment of our state, but also our rights as students of the University of Kentucky. It seems quite contrary to its purpose that our college experience has become one that is dictated to us by higher-ups rather than allowing students to choose their own paths wisely.

UK Greenthumb is a university environmental club. E-mail  [email protected]